Elizabeth Gavis Receives President's Award for Distinguished Teaching

Department Announcement
Posted on May 17, 2021

Photo by Denise Applewhite

The awards were established in 1990 through a gift by Princeton alumni Lloyd Cotsen of the Class of 1950 and John Sherrerd of the Class of 1952 to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching by Princeton faculty members. Each winner receives a cash prize of $5,000, and their departments each receive $3,000 for the purchase of new books.

A committee of faculty, academic administrators, undergraduates and graduate students selected the winners from nominations by students, faculty colleagues and alumni.

Gavis, who has taught at Princeton since 1994, studies cell biology, development and cancer. As director of undergraduate studies, she has spearheaded many transformations in the molecular biology department. She rejuvenated the undergraduate curriculum to tailor it more closely to what young scientists need to know in the 21st century and retooled the “Introduction to Cellular and Molecular Biology” course to offer students opportunities to address real-life biomedical problems and learn about the lives of the scientists who have made groundbreaking discoveries.

One colleague lauded Gavis’ efforts to include a diverse representation of molecular biologists in her lectures as well as to discuss the challenges in making sure those of all backgrounds are fully included in the field. 

A professor who co-taught the introductory course with Gavis noted, “It is challenging to teach students with little or no biology background the core concepts in the field while also providing the excitement of current research. Liz has struck a perfect balance.”

“As a graduate student in the Gavis lab, I was trained to conduct rigorous, impactful basic research. I learned how to think like a scientist,” noted a Ph.D. candidate. “While these skills attest to Liz’s strengths as a mentor, the features that truly set Liz apart include her ability to set a consistent tone in her laboratory, one that is both congenial and professional, where people work to the highest standards, push themselves to work harder and smarter, and still love to come to work every day.” 

Another former student expressed his admiration for Gavis’ mentoring. “I attended every single office hours session and developed an intellectual relationship with Professor Gavis that introduced me to the complexities and excitement of clever cells, funky genes and elegant experimental reasoning. These conversations fueled a journey towards a lifetime dedicated to the sciences and human health.”