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Keon West

Goldsmiths, University of London



On the Outstanding Teaching and Mentoring Prize

In my academic career I have applied for about 30 different posts. Only once have I ever been asked to demonstrate my teaching style or felt that my teaching skills were important. This is an unfortunate reflection of the times in contemporary academia. We are increasingly pushed to churn out paper after paper for an anxious production line. Even Peter Higgs, the Nobel Prize winning physicist who discovered the famous Higgs Boson, admitted that he would not be considered productive enough for today’s academic climate (Aitkenhead, 2013). 

I am no slouch in the research department. I’ve steadily published 4 or 5 excellent papers each year and I was recently awarded €750,000 from the European Research Council to pursue my hypotheses on sexual orientation. Still, even the research-active among us sometimes feel like we have lost something important. Research (and often-cited research, of course) has taken the lion’s share of our attention, and pragmatism forces many of us to neglect the other aspects of our profession.

It was thus a real breath of fresh air, as well as an honour and a privilege, to be offered the SPSSI Award for Outstanding Teaching and Mentoring in 2017. Teaching rewards are sometimes presented as an afterthought, with little fanfare or practical consequence. That was not at all the case here. Rather, I was invited to present on my teaching strategies at a packed session in the prestigious SPSSI annual conference, given a plaque, and handed a check for $1,000. SPSSI boldly declares its respect for good teaching and, quite literally, puts its money where its mouth is. 

This makes sense if you consider SPSSI’s core values: influencing policy and producing more than just books. In the rush to produce more research, let us not forget that creating knowledge is only part of our remit. This knowledge serves little purpose echoing in ivory towers. We must also translate and communicate our findings in terms that are as clear and simple as possible, enabling others to make the most of them in the real world. Teaching is, for many of us, the broadest line of dissemination. It is the most available way to make a real and lasting impact on our world. SPSSI reminds us of the importance of that calling with the Award for Outstanding Teaching and Mentoring, and I am proud to have been a part of it. 

Aitkenhead, D. (2013). Peter Higgs: I wouldn't be productive enough for today's academic system. The Guardian, London, UK. Retrieved from 

Further note: 
If you are interested in expanding the reach and impact of your research, please apply to be a part of the new SPSSI Youtube initiative. SPSSI has hired an excellent videographer to transform selected publications from SPSSI members and / or SPSSI journals into punchy, interesting, scientifically accurate, 2 minute videos. It is a great way to exponentially increase the number of people who know about your work. Please see Cyndi’s post for more details.