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Written by:
Paul Holland
22 Mar 2022

Professor Stephen Watterson has been recognised for his “remarkable contributions to teaching”.

Described in the award citation as an “utterly exceptional colleague”, the Trinity Hall Fellow was one of a handful of Cambridge academics awarded a Pilkington Prize this week.

The annual prizes are awarded to individuals who make a substantial contribution to the teaching programme of a Department, Faculty or the University as a whole.

Professor Stephen Watterson

Professor Stephen Watterson

Professor Watterson commented:

“I am so grateful that my work has been recognised by this award. I feel enormously fortunate to be part of an institution that attaches such importance to the education of its students, and to be able to work with so many talented and committed colleagues whose efforts in delivering our programmes, courses and outreach activities deserve equal recognition.”

Reflecting on the past two years of adapting to the pandemic, he said:

“Across the University, so many people invest an awful lot of their time and energy every year in developing and delivering our degree programmes. The pandemic forced us to fundamentally re-think the delivery of our teaching and our assessment methods, and to innovate at a pace that would have seemed unthinkable in normal times. It was an exceptionally challenging time to have been the Director of the Law Tripos. It is really heart-warming to have my work as a teacher and programme director publicly recognised, but it is important also to pay tribute to the remarkable efforts of so many colleagues across the University during this time.”

What Professor Watterson particularly loves about teaching is the chance to see his students develop the understanding and skills they need to really thrive. It is something that the supervision system, a distinguishing feature of the University’s undergraduate degree programmes, is unusually well-adapted for.

“I have had the opportunity to teach at several universities during my career. One particularly special thing about the way we do things in Cambridge is our regular small group tuition. I really enjoy the close interaction that the supervision setting allows. It is such a familiar feature of the Cambridge system that it is easy to lose sight of what an exceptional opportunity it is, and how lucky we are to be able to work with such committed and bright students.”

“Those moments in the year when you can see everything clicking into place for your students are wonderful. You’re willing them to get there.”

The award citation said: “Professor Watterson is an outstanding teacher who is held in the very highest esteem by students and colleagues alike. He teaches difficult and complex legal subjects with enviable clarity and contagious enthusiasm, securing plaudits from students year after year.”

“However, Stephen is not merely a gifted teacher. He has been a transformative Director of the Law Tripos, implementing significant organisational changes, overseeing a major review that will shape aspects of undergraduate education in the Faculty of Law for years to come, and providing extraordinary leadership of our 700-student undergraduate programme during a period of unparalleled challenge and change.”

“Alongside all of this, Stephen led the Faculty’s pathbreaking Exploring Law project — a highly innovative online course that aims to democratise access to the study of Law as an academic subject.”

“As well as forming a central plank of the Faculty’s Access & Widening Participation Programme, this nationally significant initiative is intended to demystify the subject for the benefit of all prospective students considering a Law degree at any UK university, irrespective of social or educational background.”

”Stephen’s remarkable contributions to teaching, to pedagogical leadership, development and innovation, and to outreach mark him out as an utterly exceptional colleague.”

The Pilkington Prize awards were endowed and inaugurated in 1994 by Sir Alastair Pilkington to acknowledge excellence in teaching. Twelve prizes of £1000 are awarded each year, with nominations made by each of the six Schools. The prizes are awarded annually by the Vice-Chancellor.

An awards ceremony will be held in June where winners from 2020 and 2021 will also be honoured.