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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Students award Murray Edwards Fellow university-wide prize for outstanding teaching

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    06 June 2023

    Gavin Stevenson, Director of Student Development at Murray Edwards, has won a coveted student-judged award for innovative teaching.

    Students at Cambridge praised Gavin, a Fellow in Sociology at the College, for his ‘meticulously planned’ supervisions (the university’s one-to-one or small group teaching sessions) that still ‘feel like a conversation’.

    Innovative teaching was one of nine categories in the 2023 Cambridge Student Union (CUSU) Student-Led Teaching Awards, which exist to reward outstanding teaching and student support across the university. This year there were over 400 nominations, with shortlists and winners decided by panels of student volunteers.

    Gavin was singled out for his efforts to encourage students to follow their own interests and for taking those interests seriously. When one discussed exploring post-modern theory through dating apps, Gavin supported them to pursue the idea. 

    The approach comes partly from his own experience, when a tutor at Cambridge (he studied Politics, Psychology and Sociology at Fitzwilliam College) encouraged him to analyse the phenomenon and culture of drag. ‘Somebody taking seriously things that all your life you have been told implicitly are not scholarly or don’t deserve attention has a huge impact. It’s something that it’s easy to take for granted.

    ‘Being recognised, or being seen – it sounds corny, but that kind of educational response very much saved me in terms of being given the language and tools to be able to describe my experience. That’s the really transformative power of education. That potential for transformation within a one hour conversation with somebody: that’s what I think is really special about those kind of supervisions.’

    As a PhD student studying and teaching at Cambridge, Gavin, whose research interests include the sociology of emotions and Feminist, Queer and Critical Race Theory, was nominated several times as Supervisor of the Year in the Department of Human Social and Political Science (HSPS). His success led to him devising training programmes for supervisions in sociology, and ultimately taking up a new post as Director of Student Development at Murray Edwards in summer 2022. He oversees the College’s innovative Gateway Programme, which provides all its students with study skills sessions, careers and personal development support, connections with alumni and other help with the transition to the workplace.

    For Gavin, a successful supervision is one where ‘maybe we had some fun and good humour. I like to use the Socratic method in my teaching: I just constantly ask questions, sometimes in an intentionally over-naïve way. I get quite pernickety with words: every time a student uses words or ideas, I ask them what they mean by that.’

    There is a concerning lack of critical, in-depth thinking in politics and beyond, he believes, and pushes his students to explore viewpoints other than their own. Once they move on, he is ambitious for them to ‘leave university able to think critically and argue and persuade people in a way that is grounded in evidence’.