Teaching undergraduate students is a task not only reserved for Yale faculty members, but also for graduate teaching fellows. And when a teaching fellow (informally called a TF) performs well in the classroom, they may be acknowledged for their work with a teaching prize.
It just so happens that Department of Economics graduate student Wei Xiang was one of seven students awarded a 2021-2022 Prize Teaching Fellowship for the 2020-2021 academic year. Given annually by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Yale College, the prize recognizes outstanding performance and promise as a teacher and is considered among the most important honors that Yale bestows upon graduate students.
Xiang, a third-year Ph. D. student, was a TF for Professor Eduardo Dávila for Financial Economics during Fall 2020 and a TF for Professor Fabrizio Zilibotti for Intermediate Macroeconomics during Spring 2021. He was nominated for the award by students from both courses.
“I am thrilled to receive this award,” said Xiang. “I have always had a passion for teaching because I have come to realize that my developing interest in macro and trade have come from my excellent teachers and advisors. I am glad that the students enjoy my lessons and am appreciative of their nomination.”
When asked what he enjoys about teaching, Xiang said it is rewarding to see undergraduate students “grow and make progress over the course of the semester.” He is also appreciative of the Economics professors he assists. “The encouragement they have given me has helped me persevere when I encountered obstacles in my own research; I continually strive to pass this feeling along to the students in my classes.”
Professor Dávila complimented Xiang on being very organized and systematic with his teaching. “He was also very successful at encouraging students to ask questions during sections, which is something that students value highly.”
Both Professors Dávila and Zilibotti were impressed with Xiang’s advanced grasp of the material he covered in class and how he was able to convey it succinctly to the students.
“He is always able to answer clearly all the questions that the students had,” said Professor Dávila. “He is very good at breaking down complex ideas into simpler ones.”
Professor Zilibotti also commented on Xiang’s thoughtfulness toward the students. ”Every time we discussed a student, or an issue one of them had raised, it felt like he knew everything about that person.” Professor Zilibotti recalled a specific conversation with a student who said, ”Without the attention and support I received from Wei, this would have been a much harder journey.”
Another of Xiang’s students wrote in the anonymous nomination form, “During my time learning from Wei, I could really tell that he wasn’t there only to do his job right, but that he genuinely cared about each and every one of his students.”
Xiang finds the Department of Economics a caring community, where the faculty members are willing to mentor. “I have received tremendous guidance and help from many professors, especially Fabrizio Zilibotti, Sam Kortum, Costas Arkolakis, and Giuseppe Moscarini. I have also benefited a lot from the conversation with Lorenzo Caliendo, Ana Cecilia Fieler, Timothy Guinnane, Zhen Huo, Ilse Lindenlaub, Giovanni Maggi, Michael Peters, and Aleh Tsyvinski,” he said.
As for advice for his fellow TFs Xiang said, “My simple teaching philosophy is to always try to put myself in the shoes of my students. While a TF may find it easier to ‘run fast’, it is important that they understand why students may stumble. I personally always try hard to identify each student’s unique hurdle: treating the problem is much less challenging once you know what it is.”
Xiang’s areas of interests are Macroeconomics and International Trade. Specifically, he studies the growth and distributional effects of human capital accumulation and international technology diffusion. He is also interested in better understanding the mechanisms driving firm dynamics.
This year’s fellows will be honored at a celebratory reception and dinner in the fall hosted by Lynn Cooley, Dean of the Graduate School and Marvin Chun, Dean of Yale College.
The prize has been awarded since the 1999-2000 academic year and is based upon excellence in performance as Teaching Fellow or Part-Time Acting Instructor. Recipients are nominated by their students and the faculty members they assist, and are awarded a $3,000 stipend for the following academic year. To be eligible for prize selection, graduate students must be making satisfactory progress towards the Ph.D. degree, and are nominated by undergraduate students and by supervising faculty. All doctoral candidates are expected to serve as teaching fellows for a semester or more during their time at Yale.
For more information on the award, visit the Prize Teaching Fellow webpage.