Physics Alum Receives MIT Teaching Excellence Award After One Year as Postdoc

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​One year ago, Mohamed Abdelhafez '11 started working as a postdoctoral associate in physics education technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Today, he has received the 2020 MIT Graduate Student Council Teaching Award has become a full-time lecturer in physics after an overwhelming nomination by students.

“It’s probably never happened that a physics postdoctor gets a full lecturer position at MIT after only one year,” said Abdelhafez. 

Having graduated with a bachelor’s in physics, Abdelhafez is specialized in enhancing online platforms, such as edXfor teaching physics.

In addition to his research, Abdelhafez started working as a teaching assistant in the general institute requirement course 8.01 (Physics I Classical Mechanics), which is a class required for all undergraduates at MIT regardless of their major and has an enrollment of around 700 students. It is taught in the TEAL (Technology Enabled Active Learning) format, which abandons the typical lecture style and focuses on active learning in small groups. 

As part of 8.01, he started holding weekly sessions to help students grasp the material covered every week. He also developed a set of instructional videos using lightboard technology. The 8.01 course officially adopted his videos and will continue to use them in instruction for years to come. 

“My own design of systematic problem-solving strategies and my general teaching techniques proved very successful as hundreds of MIT students attended my extra sessions and really advocated for my instruction,” he said.

By the end of the first semester, Abdelhafez received an overall teaching evaluation rating of 6.9/7.0 as voted by 216 students, although his own section had only 80 students. “Over 200 students started a separate petition to the physics department at MIT to make me a lecturer of my own section in 8.02 (Electricity and Magnetism),” he affirmed. “The department expressed to me how they never received such overwhelming feedback and promoted me to teach a section of 8.02 in the spring. It is an extremely rare situation at MIT that a postdoc teaches their own class, especially huge classes like 8.01/8.02.”

In the petition, MIT students said, “We think that [Mohamed Ragab Abdelhafez] had a considerable contribution to our learning, and has helped us understand hard concepts with ease and in a structured, systematic way. His review sessions were extremely helpful in preparing for the exams and the final. We believe that Mohamed's commitment and passion for teaching and his love for all his students make him stand out.

Abdelhafez received the MIT Graduate Council Teaching Award 2020 for his work during the academic year 2019/2020. The award is based on student nominations.

“After teaching my section in the spring, both physically and virtually through Zoom, students nominated me to receive the MIT teaching award. That meant so much to me,” said Abdelhafez.  

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Before his postdoc at MIT, he was working on his PhD in physics (quantum computing) at the University of Chicago. During his five years at UChicago, he received three different teaching awards for his pedagogical techniques and style.

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