Congratulations to Ahmed Saade, Economics Postgraduate Teaching Assistant, for winning Inspiring Teaching Delivery at the 2021 UCL Student Choice Awards. We caught up to learn a bit more about Ahmed and his role in the past year.
I am French and Lebanese. I completed my undergraduate degree at the American University of Beirut, a beautiful place! I then worked for a couple of years in the Middle East and France before moving to the UK for graduate studies. In 2019 I started a PhD with the hope of contributing to the increasing body of work on income inequality. My research revolves around different aspects of monopsonistic competition in labor markets. I joined UCL in October 2020, probably the best decision I have ever taken. Some other activities of mine include supervising Master’s students for their dissertations, and writing op-ed columns on different matters relating to policy.
What did you enjoy the most about your role in ECON0002?
Without a doubt the trust given to me by the ECON0002 team. Even though everything was clear in terms of material that had to be covered during tutorials, the Professors always promoted an individual style of teaching which I really appreciated. This freedom definitely made me feel more comfortable with my teaching duties. The same applies to ECON0007, another module I teach.
Further information on ECON0002.
What were the most challenging aspects about your role in ECON0002?
Most students believe that as terms pass by, modules will become more and more difficult and thus that ECON0002 is one of the easiest modules in the curriculum (an assumption which creates a lot of stress because they anticipate back-breaking years to come).
I actually believe the opposite, that ECON0002 is one of the most challenging modules: taking into consideration the vast array of material that it covers, coupled with the fact that it occurs during the first year of the university journey when a student is still intimidated and sometimes doubtful about his/her capabilities, I think that ECON0002 can be quite the test.
For tutors, this translates into a whole set of challenges. We need to ensure that students understand the rationale behind the content and its structure, to communicate the ECON0002 story effectively as failing to do so could turn the first year experience into an unpleasant and discouraging one. This module is very interesting in terms of flow and logical continuity between units, hence the necessity to constantly remind students as to “why we are studying this, and why now”.
What have you learned from your experience of the past year and what aspects will stick with you moving forward?
I have learned that students are not interested in having a Dumbledore tutor trying to impress them with his knowledge. They just want someone who is accessible and with whom they feel comfortable asking questions and expressing their doubts. This is definitely something I will keep in mind and share with others for the rest of my teaching career.
What does winning this award mean to you?
It means the world to me! The only reason I chose economics is for its implications on society: there is so much to improve and the possibilities are endless. When I teach, I try to transmit this message as often as I can. If I have succeeded in inspiring them even a little, then my mission has been accomplished.
What do you think is key to being a good PGTA?
As PGTAs, our role is to make sure that the information presented to students by Lecturers and Professors has been transformed into knowledge. The way to accomplish that depends on each PGTA’s teaching style. Personally, I opt for a conversational approach rather than a monologue-like presentation. I simply tell myself “If it were only about providing students with the right answers, then there would be no need for a class in the first place. We could have just sent a video.”.
More importantly, I believe that a PGTA should strive to promote well-being in his/her class; to check up on students every now and then; to understand their individual aspirations; to keep an eye out in case a student shows declining performance and try to find out why; and to congratulate students who show improvement (we often forget that one!). It takes less than a minute, yet it may change a student’s life.
In terms of faculty and staff, everyone has been simply amazing with me. This was my first year at UCL so I was anxious prior to starting, I didn’t know what to expect. Very rapidly I felt part of the family, as if I had been here for years. The teaching team is simply unbelievable. Additionally, I would like to thank Aoife and Yannis who were always there to answer any queries of mine and were key to my integration.
When it comes to students, I want to congratulate every single one of them for being so resilient and not giving up during these challenging circumstances. I know for a fact that many have had an extremely difficult time, each for his/her personal reasons, yet they all kept going. Finally, I must say that I am actually quite jealous of them! I wasn’t half as knowledgeable as they are when I was their age…
Many thanks to everyone I worked with this year, whether Lecturers, TAs, students or administrative staff. This award only reflects how comfortable I felt among the amazing people of UCL Economics. I cannot wait for it to start again, hopefully for a very long time.