Omar Matar receiving SACA

College Staff Guide to the SACAs

The Student Academic Choice Awards (or SACAs for short) are an annual award ceremony organised by Imperial College Union. They are our flagship event for empowering students to recognise, reward and celebrate excellence in College staff.

Staff participation in the SACAs is important to us, which is why we have produced this guide. In it, we:

  • Explain why the SACAs are awarded
  • Explain how the SACAs supports the Academic Representation Network
  • Address common concerns
  • Give ideas for how you can take part in the 2017 SACAs cycle

The SACAs were first awarded in May 2013, and in only two years have become a highly-regarded event on College’s academic and social calendar. Each year, hundreds of students suggest who they want to win one of eight awards; panels of Academic Representatives then narrow down the hundreds of candidates into shortlists of six. The winners are finally revealed at a prestigious awards ceremony each May, with a mix of students, academics, professional staff and senior College leaders in attendance.

The SACAs and academic excellence at College

The SACAs' purpose goes beyond the awards ceremony. Each year, we receive approximately 50,000 words of authentic, student-written comment about the highlights of their educational experience at Imperial - an unrivalled resource for understanding the spread and evolution of great teaching & supervision across College. Unlike surveys such as the National Student Survey or SOLE, the SACAs nominations are about examples of excellence - amazing teaching, research, support and doctoral supervision. SACA nominations are widely used; they are referenced in our Responses, used by our Academic Representatives, and are analysed by College's Education Office to help decide content and speakers for their annual Education Day.

The SACAs and the Academic Representation Network

The SACAs are closely linked to the Academic Representation Network – the collective name for our 500+ Academic Representatives, who are elected students covering every course, department, campus and research group at Imperial College London. While the Academic Representation Network is designed to support College in continually improving the quality of education, teaching and supervision, we recognise that sometimes, this doesn’t fully reflect how good things are at Imperial. Imperial College Union is a strong believer in College’s world-leading academic quality, and we wanted to create a space for a positive, celebratory, student-led dialogue about excellence; that’s what we created the SACAs.  After two years in operation, with strong support from College, we hope we are achieving that goal. 

What sets the SACAs apart from the other award schemes in operation at Imperial is its entirely student-led nature. Every part of the SACAs is student-led, making it a unique opportunity for Imperial College Union to amplify the student voice and ensure it is heard across College. From start to finish, the SACAs are led by students, who are responsible for:

  • Creating the categories
  • Submitting the nominations
  • Selecting the shortlistees
  • Choosing the winners
  • Hosting the ceremony
  • Presenting the awards

Myths about the SACAs

While the vast majority of staff are usually very supportive of the SACAs, we have heard of a few concerns in the past. We hope that we address these below:

It’s a popularity contest
SACA winners are decided on the quality of nominations, not the quantity. In the past, we have had 50+ nominations for one individual, but they haven’t won – because a small number of heartfelt, amazing nominations have been received for someone else. Our student panels are carefully balanced to ensure that no one department or faculty can only select their nominees.

It’s superficial
Some academics have commented that these awards ceremonies only reward academics who superficially please their students, rather than teach well – with free sweets during tutorials, or through gimmicky teaching methods that don’t have educational value. We disagree; the vast majority of nominations received are sophisticated and detailed, describing impressive cases of commitment to teaching and quality, usually spread over entire terms or years – or even careers. 

It’s focused on Undergraduates
There are two categories reserved solely for Postgraduate students to nominate – Best Supervision, and Best Teaching for Postgraduates. There is also an award, Best Graduate Teaching Assistant, which can only be won by Postgraduates undertaking doctoral research. So far, seven of the 15 SACA winners have either been Postgraduates, or academics mainly nominated for their work with Postgraduates – and one of them has won two SACAs!

It’s for front-line staff
We recognise that the work of College’s thousands of non-academic staff is vital, and we created the Best Support Staff category to help recognise their contribution. In 2013 and 2014, we received nominations for departmental administrators, laboratory technicians, course coordinators, admissions tutors, workshop supervisors and Library staff. We would welcome nominations for staff who work in welfare & pastoral care, accommodation, estates, communications – in fact, from any part of the College.

How can you take part in the SACAs?

While we can only accept nominations from students, we would welcome any publicity or communication about the SACAs that you could distribute within your course, department or faculty. Paper flyers and publicity templates are available from Imperial College Union. A few key points:

It’s OK to promote the SACAs, and even ask people to nominate you!

  • Students can nominate as many people as they like in as many categories as they like; they can nominate one individual in multiple categories, or multiple individuals in one category, or both.
  • Descriptive nominations are best – short nominations like ‘They are a great lecturer!’ are not helpful to the panel.
  • Departmental Representatives and Year Representatives have agreed nomination targets for each department, based on the size of the department and previous nominations.

Nominations are open now until 26 February 2017.

Quotes from SACA Winners

“I was absolutely thrilled (and very pleasantly surprised) to have been nominated; winning the SACA is the highlight of my year. The student experience is my number one priority, and this inspires and drives my teaching to respond to the need to train the best students in the world” – Professor Omar Matar, Chemical Engineering; winner of the 2014 SACA for Best Teaching for Undergraduates

“It was wonderful to have been nominated for Best Support Staff, and then to actually receive the award was a real surprise and honour. The fact that it is from the students makes it particularly meaningful and I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you.” – Victor Boddy, Electrical & Electronic Engineering; winner of the 2014 SACA for Best Support Staff

“I’ve always loved teaching and Imperial’s students are as good as you could hope to have. Being nominated by the students I taught was therefore really gratifying, and winning was the icing on the cake.” – Professor Andrew Purvis, Division of Ecology & Evolution; winner of the 2013 SACA for Best Teaching for Postgraduates

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