Professor John Richer receives a Pilkington Prize for Teaching Excellence, marking third successive award for Downing Fellows


Professor John Richer, Fellow in Physics, was one of twelve recipients of the 2018 Pilkington Prizes for Teaching Excellence at a special ceremony in June, which also marked 25 years of the Prizes.  The winners were presented with their award by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope. In recognition of this special anniversary, all previous winners of Pilkington Prizes were invited to this year’s reception and award ceremony. 

Professor Toope said at the ceremony: “The Prize winners we are celebrating tonight are people who have gone above and beyond to deliver excellent teaching, whether by instigating new projects, trialling new technologies, or developing new courses.”

He added: “What stands out about this year’s winners is that they share a gift for explaining complex subjects lucidly so as to make them clear and accessible – to students, and in many cases, through their outreach work, accessible to wider audiences as well. They all excel at engaging students and communicating to students their own passion and enthusiasm.” 

You can read more about the 2018 recipients and this year’s ceremony on the  University of Cambridge website.


Professor John Richer: "a beacon for new lecturers"

Professor John Richer, a Fellow at Downing since 2013, is a Professor of Physics and the Director of Undergraduate Teaching in the Physics Department.  He has been described by staff members as “a beacon for new lecturers – promoting good practice and deep commitment to teaching.”

Professor Richer said, "I'm delighted to have been awarded the Pilkington Prize, recognising both my own teaching in physics, but also my role in leading the Physics Tripos in the Cavendish Laboratory. Physics has never been so popular at Cambridge, with record numbers of Natural Scientists choosing it as their specialism in Parts IB, II and III.  It's a privilege and a real challenge to deliver a course which is accessible to all but also stretches the very best, and to try to ensure that all students can achieve their potential in the subject.  This large course is the result of a huge team effort from academic colleagues and support staff; I'd particularly like to thank our teaching support team for their professionalism and enthusiasm in their tireless support of physics education at the Cavendish."


Downing and the Pilkington Prizes

Professor Richer's award this year achieves an impressive third award in three years for Downing Fellows. Dr Rob Harle, Fellow in Computer Science and Technology, was awarded the prize in 2016, followed by Dr Monica Moreno Figueroa, Fellow in Social Sciences, in 2017. 

Senior Pro-Vice Chancellor, and Fellow in Law at Downing College, Professor Graham Virgo said, “The Pilkington Teaching Prizes reward excellence in teaching at the University of Cambridge. The prizes have been in existence for 25 years, over which time five Downing Fellows have been awarded the prize, with three in the last three years. The existence of the prizes reflects the vital importance of education to the mission of the University.”

Dr Moreno Figueroa said, “I’m very pleased with the recognition.  The Pilkington Prize has been a great platform from where to push for an inclusive, caring and thoughtful teaching practice that is mindful of the students and the process of thinking within the classroom.”

A film highlighting Dr Moreno Figueroa's work and celebrating her prize was made in 2017.


25 years of the Pilkington Prizes

The Pilkington Prizes are organised by the Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning, which supports staff, encourages innovation and provides a focus for institutional, national and international developments in higher education.  In 2018 the Prizes celebrate 25 years.

The Pilkington Prize awards were inaugurated in 1994 and endowed by Sir Alastair Pilkington (Trinity 1938) to acknowledge excellence in teaching.  He believed passionately that the quality of the teaching was a crucial part of the University's ability to continue to attract undergraduates of the highest calibre.  Largely as a result of Sir Alistair’s efforts, supported by a personal donation of £50,000, the Pilkington Prizes Fund was created in July 1992 and the first prizes were awarded in 1994.  More recently an additional £200,000 was donated to the fund by the Cambridge Foundation, representing part of a legacy gift from the late Clifford Anthony Ingram.

The prizes are awarded to individuals who make a substantial contribution to the teaching programme of a Department, Faculty or the University as a whole. There are twelve prizes awarded each year, with nominations made by each School.  

It was announced at this year's ceremony that in addition to the Pilkington Prizes, two new prizes will be awarded next year for excellence in technology-enabled learning. The Technology-Enabled Learning Prize has been funded by Cambridge University Press in recognition of the increasing importance of digital technologies in the provision of higher education. More details and a call for entries will be published later in the year.


Published 30 July 2018.