Professor Sheila Skeaff with PhD candidate Nan Xin Wang.
When Nan Xin Wang arrived in Dunedin to start her PhD studies in the Department of Human Nutrition, Professor Sheila Skeaff immediately made a very deep impression on her.
“Sheila drove me around Dunedin to familiarise me with the surrounding area and the trip ended up at her place where her husband, Murray, made dinner for us,” Nan Xin recalls.
“When COVID-19 struck and the borders were closed, she made sure my family in Singapore had her phone number and assured them she’d take care of me if I were to fall sick. In the last three years, during festive seasons such as Christmas and Chinese New Year, Sheila would also invite me to her family so that I was not alone when other students were celebrating with their own families.”
It's this emphasis that Professor Skeaff places on developing deep and authentic relationships that led to her receiving the overall award in December’s OUSA Supervisor of the Year awards.
“The award is nice acknowledgment in the sense it gives confirmation that what I’m doing, and the approach I’m taking, works for the students and they see it as important,” Professor Skeaff says.
“All students have lives outside the University and their studies, and for me it’s really important to consider and be sensitive to all those things that make up their personal lives.”
Nan Xin says Sheila has also been a huge help supporting and improving her writing for her own research and thesis, an issue she refers to as a big challenge for many international students.
“We would spend hours in her office working through my manuscripts and she’d teach me how to write clearly and concisely for my audience. And when I was collecting data for my PhD, Sheila was constantly checking if I needed extra help and offered to hire research assistants or engage in interns to take on some of my workload.”
Professor Sheila Skeaff with student Briar Mills.
Nan Xing facilitated the award nomination for Professor Skeaff, and coordinated ten of her past and present postgraduate students submitting their individual support statements.
One of those students, Briar Mills, says Professor Skeaff is “passionate and goes above and beyond to help us get the most out of our time as postgrad students”.
“Sheila has built great relationships with her students that often continue after they have completed their studies. She’s a wonderful supervisor and definitely deserves the award.”
Adding to her list of accolades which includes the national 2018 Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award for Sustained Excellence in Tertiary Teaching, Professor Skeaff was also named the winner of the Division of Science section of the Supervisor of the Year awards.
“The main difference between teaching and supervising is that teaching is often a short-term connection, but having a longer time with postgraduate students gives the opportunity to build a relationship that can be enduring.”
Professor Skeaff has been supervising students since 2004, and in the time since has looked after well over 50 postgraduate students. She reflects that over that time, she’s become more flexible in her approach due to the sheer variety of personal situations of students, as well as becoming a bit more protective due to the many challenges students now face.
“My role is to help and support them through the process of their studies and on to the next step of their career,” Professor Skeaff says.
“For me, supervising postgraduate students is the best part of being an academic. Postgraduate supervision incorporates my favourite aspects of teaching including a desire to learn, curiosity, inquiry, reflection, cooperation, communication, and one-on-one interaction. It’s hard work on both sides, but we also have fun!”
Kōrero by Guy Frederick (Sciences communications advisor)
Winners and Finalists
The annual OUSA Supervisor of the Year Awards, held in conjunction with the Graduate Research School, received over 120 nominations. The winners were determined by a panel comprised of PhD candidates from each Division as well as the OUSA Postgraduate Representative. The Divisional winners and finalists of the 2022 awards event held in December were as follows:
- Commerce Winner: Associate Professor Julia Albrecht (Tourism)
- Commerce Finalists: Associate Professor Ros Whiting (Accountancy and Finance) and Professor Jin Zhang (Accountancy and Finance)
- Health Sciences Winner: Dr Mike Garratt (Anatomy)
- Health Science Finalists: Dr Matt Jenkins (Psychological Medicine, Wellington) and Professor Rebecca Grainger (Medicine, Wellington)
- Humanities Winner: Dr Christina Ergler (Geography)
- Humanities Finalists: Professor Paul Trebilco (Theology) and Associate Professor Suzanne Little (Performing Arts)
- Sciences Winner: Professor Sheila Skeaff (Human Nutrition)
- Sciences Finalists: Associate Professor Richard Linscott (Psychology) and Dr Jo Monks (Zoology)
- New Supervisor of the Year: Dr Mike Garratt (Anatomy)
- Supervisor of the Year: Professor Sheila Skeaff (Human Nutrition)