Inspirational scientist from the University of Sheffield given top award

Professor Tim Birkhead, from the University of Sheffield's department of animal and plant sciences
Professor Tim Birkhead, from the University of Sheffield's department of animal and plant sciences
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A zoology professor from the University of Sheffield has been honoured with a national award in recognition of his longstanding dedication to inspiring the next generation of scientists.

Professor Tim Birkhead, from the university's department of animal and plant sciences was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship by the Higher Education Academy in recognition of devoting more than 40 years to teaching budding biologists.

A renowned ornithologist and author, Prof Birkhead has been committed to making science accessible and interesting for all since he joined the university as a lecturer in 1976 after completing his PhD at Oxford.

After being encouraged by the positive feedback he received from his first undergraduate students, he has worked tirelessly throughout his career to enhance student learning.

He introduced research-led, interactive teaching and feedback long before they became routine and even produced short videos to help give his students a more innovative learning experience – something that was considered pioneering at the time.

Prof Birkhead said: "I’m delighted to receive this accolade – it is such an honour.

“The best part of my job is working with young scientists who clearly have a passion for zoology and are so enthusiastic to learn more about the animals and plants that share our planet.

“Science is such an important subject and as academics, researchers and teachers we have a responsibility to ignite that passion to learn about our world and how we can help to protect it for future generations.”

His ground breaking studies have helped to improve our understanding of animal behaviour, evolution and ecology.

Prof Birkhead added: “I have always sought new sources of inspiration to guide and inform my teaching and found talking to the public about my research to be exactly what I need.

“The more diverse my outreach audience, the more diverse and stimulating the feedback into my teaching. For the past 10 years I have given a public lecture every three weeks on average and I would advise my younger colleagues to do the same and to tell the public about their research and teaching.”

Professor Birkhead is one of 55 new National Teaching Fellows which were announced by the HEA.

HEA chief executive, Professor Stephanie Marshall, said: “A National Teaching Fellowship is the most prestigious individual award for excellence in teaching in higher education.

"The new NTFs represent some of the very best teaching in higher education and I am sure they will inspire others as we share their innovative practice and ideas across the sector.

“The UK is justifiably proud of its higher education sector and its reputation is enhanced by the examples of excellent teaching highlighted by these awards.”

Prof Birkhead has previously been named UK Bioscience Teacher of the Year by the UK Society of Biology in honour of his inspirational teaching and longstanding passion for research in the field.

The University of Sheffield was also announced as one of 15 finalists shortlisted for the Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence award for its innovative Global Engineering Challenge initiative.

Over six years, the GEC innovation has helped transform 6,800 first year engineering students and 117 PhD students, into employable Global Engineers. Research shows 60 per cent of students used GEC in job applications.

The CATE awards recognise outstanding contributions to teaching by teams at higher education providers. Six of the finalists will be awarded grants of £15,000 to disseminate their learning. The winners will be announced at a formal celebration event in London in November.