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WATE 2017 winner: Keith Leppard (Life Sciences)

Why did you start teaching? What (or who) inspired you?

Teaching is a natural and indispensable part of being a university academic. I wanted a career in scientific research and always saw teaching as an indivisible part of that. I certainly recognised as a student that some of those put up in front of us were easier to learn from than others and begun to analyse what it was about those good lecturers that I enjoyed. I still remember a guest lecture from the developmental biologist Lewis Wolpert that opened my eyes to the beauty of biology at a mechanistic level, and being captivated by the discovery of RNA splicing in eukaryotes that new research papers described.

Is there anything you wish someone had told you when you started out?

Don’t forget that the motivations of the students who are with you in a class are many and various: don’t assume their reasons are the same as yours were when you were in their position.

If you were mentoring a first-time teacher, what three bits of advice would you give?

Planning is key to success: give each session its own discrete aims and outcomes, even when it is one of a series you are giving; give yourself 30 mins of quiet time before a session to think through the key points and issues for discussion; base your teaching around concepts and ideas rather than facts.

What advice/top tips would you give to more experienced teachers?

There’s no one ‘correct’ way to teach so be prepared to try new things, however well you feel your teaching is working.

What new technologies are you currently using to enhance your teaching? What are your top tips for using them?

I have no particular favourite piece of technology, but my top tip re technology would be that using it should not be an end in itself, but must help your students to learn or do something new, or to acquire new skills of benefit to them.

What new or future teaching innovations are you looking forward to?

I must have dropped my crystal ball somewhere…..

What does winning a WATE award mean to you?

Winning a WATE was an enormous surprise and honour, and for me it means reassurance that I have been doing at least some things right over the past many years.

What do you enjoy the most about teaching? What’s the best part of your job?

Meeting my new tutor group every year and then seeing how they develop as people over the three or four years they are here.

What are the biggest challenges faced by teaching staff? How do you overcome these?

Conflicting time pressures is the biggest challenge in my view. It’s easy to let routine tasks fill more time than they need, so I avoid this by deliberately compressing them into specific periods of time, leaving space for other things.

What lessons have you learned from your students?

Success is always relative, and there is something to celebrate in almost every outcome. Also, that success is frequently achieved against a backdrop of serious personal adversity – I have learned just how much individuals have to cope with and still they find a way to do well.

If you could write a recipe for the perfect inspiring teacher, what ingredients would you need?

Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorous, sulfur, iron, calcium, potassium, sodium, magnesium, zinc and many more, it’s a long list. Getting the proportions exactly right is the key, but I don’t think anyone yet has worked that recipe out!


Enjoyed hearing from Keith? See the full list of 2017 winners and read other interviews.