How do I get nominated for an award?

Don’t you wonder how some people seem to get all the prizes, even though your work is just as good? Wouldn’t you like some recognition for your accomplishments? Well, here’s how you do it.

First, of course, do great science. Ask big questions and answer them. Publish when you have an enticing and fairly complete piece. No one expects you to have figured out everything on the topic. This advice will help you publish more often. Take that extra time you might have spent doing more experiments to connect your work to the work that has gone before. We don’t much care about borogroves, or whatever you work on, unless you teach us to care. If you work on insects, connect to birds. If you work on microbes, connect to mammals. If you work on vertebrates, please, please, remember your question is likely to have been addressed in an insect. Your work is enhanced, not diminished, by the connections you can draw. I could go on about doing and communicating great science, but this is a blog about getting those awards.

Ultimately, only people figuring out really cool things get prizes. You know this part of the equation. But what may trouble you, is that lots of people doing cool stuff don’t get prizes, or don’t get them as early as they might have, or as early as some other people. So, if your work is amazing, but you aren’t getting the notice you crave, one thing you can do is make the whole nominating process easier. It is a human endeavor, flawed, done by busy people who look for short cuts.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but a great way to get prizes is to start nominating others for them. This is because when you do this, it becomes clear what the nominators look for. Knowing this can help you fine-tune your research and its presentation. More than anything, nominators want your story to be easy to tell. You do great work, but are your results easy to find on your web page? Often a nominator will have to write a 200 word, or 500 word recommendation on why you deserve a prize. It will talk about your research results more than your research questions. It will also mention that you are collegial, helpful, a great mentor, good at outreach. So make those things be true and make them clear on your web page. Remember, I wrote earlier on why you should host your lab web page on a site you control completely, not a university one.

I think you should have those paragraphs the nominator needs right there on your website. Tell us in a few hundred words what you and your team have accomplished. You could also do bullet points, or short paragraphs the nominator can pick and choose from. Just don’t make it too long. Make it true, factual, exciting. Avoid adjectives and just give us the meat. Make it clear why what you have done is important. Andrew Read, who works on disease evolution at Penn State, told me he did a short internship at a newspaper, probably in Ireland – I don’t remember exactly. Anyway, he impressed upon me how important it is to tell what you have done on your web page. He does so well, here. He hosts his own web page for his lab, and tells about questions, funding, achievements, and study systems. All this makes it easy for a reporter, prize nominator, or anyone, to figure out what he does.

Wikipedia has rules about who can have an entry. I’m not sure what they are, but any professor is eminent enough for Wikipedia. Make sure you have a Wikipedia entry. Make sure it is accurate. People will turn to it when they introduce you. Have someone else upload it. One of our grad students claims he wrote the first draft of the Wikipedia for me and Dave. We keep meaning to update it more.

When you start nominating people, you will see that we also need to know when and where you got your degrees, so don’t be shy about your age. Make that CV available. I have recently been hunting for year and place of Ph.D. for a group of people and it is surprisingly hard to find for many. For me, it is easy, University of Texas at Austin, 1979. Turned in the thesis in February, but that no one actually needs to know. Sometimes we need to know when and where you were born, or what country claims you as its citizen. Tell, tell, if you are comfortable with this.

You may wonder how to go about becoming a nominator. A good place to start is your professional societies. I’m in several that have prizes, including the Animal Behavior Society. Pay attention to the newsletter, look at the web page, go to the business meeting. It is your society, so participate! You may come across prizes you can apply for directly. Do so. If you find some that you are not eligible for, think about people that are and encourage them to apply.

How do nominators decide whom to nominate? Well, first they have to know the work and probably know the person. They may worry about bias, and not want to just nominate their friends, so how do they find those other names? This will vary according to the level of the prize. I hope the nominators don’t just look for people that got other prizes, and then nominate them for this one. They will search for lists that help narrow down the field. Boards of editors get considered, so if you get asked to be on a board of editors, do it. (Being the main editor, or one of very few, is a much more serious consideration.) Maybe you are not at that stage yet and so have to become visible in other ways. The more you are a good citizen, the more noticed you will be. Agree to referee papers, and do it promptly. Volunteer to serve on an NSF panel if you are in the US. Go to meetings and talk to people. But don’t let this get in the way of keeping you and your group in its main business of doing amazing work on awesome systems. You decide what the right amount is. Just because they ask, don’t think you have to say yes all the time.

Write a review paper every now and then that teaches others how to think about your field. This can bring you visibility. Prizes are a social endeavor, chosen by busy people, so do great science, and make it easy for those nominators to find you and write about you. At some point you will be as happy that someone you nominated got a prize as when you get one yourself.


Boahemaa Adu-Oppong right after she received the Julian Huxley award for best undergraduate thesis in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, at Rice University.


Stan Braude right before he receives the top teaching award from the Animal Behavior Society.

About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Managing an academic career, Scientific meetings. Bookmark the permalink.

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