The University of Oxford’s Medical Sciences Teaching Excellence Awards recognise outstanding teaching and supervision taking place within a research-intensive environment. Today, Jessica Renzella, a DPhil student at NDPH’s Sustainable Food, Diet and Non Communicable Disease Prevention Group, received an Early Career Excellent Teacher Award through the scheme. These are awarded to individuals within the first five years of their teaching career who have been highly innovative and have developed exceptional expertise in teaching within a relatively short period of time. This can include developing new and engaging teaching materials; encouraging students in active learning; and progressively refining their teaching through evaluative evidence and student feedback.
Jessica’s research focuses on how evidence can support public health policies and interventions that aim to improve population diets in Sri Lanka. Alongside this, she coordinates the accredited Short Course on Prevention Strategies for Non-Communicable Diseases in collaboration with the Department for Continuing Education. She also lectures and tutors home and visiting students on the Year 3 Human Sciences Health and Disease Option Course, and lectures on the Year 5 Clinical Course in Public Health.
‘It sounds clichéd, but the thing I enjoy most about teaching is learning’ says Jessica. ‘Developing courses, putting lectures together, and preparing for tutorials requires me to regularly update and consolidate my knowledge. I’ve also learnt a lot from interacting with students, who each come to class with their own ideas and experiences to share and explore. There’s nothing quite like those ‘but why?’ or ‘well, what do you think about…?’ questions from students to keep you on your toes!’
Nevertheless, Jessica is quick to stress how the wider community in the department has helped to develop her teaching style. ‘I’ve found the public health teaching environment here to be quite collaborative and supportive. In particular, the combination of small group and interactive teaching has helped me to confront (and partially overcome) my public speaking fears. In that respect, I’m lucky to have started my teaching journey at Oxford where both methods are championed’ she says.
‘I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with and learn from generous and clever supervisors and colleagues – specifically Mike Rayner, Pete Scarborough, Asha Kaur, Prachi Bhatnagar, Adrian Smith, Ruchi Baxi, Charlie Foster (University of Bristol), Kremlin Wickramasinghe (World Health Organization), and Nick Townsend (University of Bath)’ she adds.
According to Jessica, this award, combined with her recently-completed Doctorate, will be a tremendous asset for her ambition to pursue an academic career that combines both teaching and research. ‘This award has brought a huge smile to my face. It is really lovely to be recognised formally for something that I love doing and that I value so highly. I’m deeply grateful to the people who nominated me and for the time and care they put into the application. This process has definitely inspired me to put forward more of my colleagues for formal recognition of their work.’