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Is Your Research Award-Worthy?

Why are some breakthroughs immediately celebrated, while others languish in obscurity? 5 tips to improve the odds of your research getting recognized…

Published October 09, 2019

Is Your Research Award-Worthy?
Is Your Research Award-Worthy?
Rachel Wilson with Len Blavatnik

2014 Blavatnik National Award Winner Rachel Wilson with Len Blavatnik

2017 Innovators in Science Awards Ceremony

2017 Innovators in Science Awards Ceremony

Basic research helps us to better understand the world we live in; breakthrough research transforms it. But the annals of history are filled with accounts of scientists whose early discoveries were only recognized after many long decades of struggle, or in some instances only after their death (think Alfred Wegener, Ada Lovelace, or Nikola Tesla, to name just a few).

After almost 15 years of administering awards and recognition programs specifically focused on early career researchers—including both the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists, and the Innovators in Science Award—we’ve learned a few things about the mechanics of research recognition. Of course, the first and most essential component is the quality of the research itself; it must break new ground, challenge an old paradigm, or transform our understanding of a topic. But beyond that, there are a few simple, practical tips that can help you ensure that your stellar research gets the recognition it deserves…

TIP #1: Do your research (on research prizes)

Whether you are a biochemist, a mathematician, or a space archeologist, there is a prize out there for you. A 2009 McKinsey study of prizes worth more than $100,000 found that the aggregate value of such awards had more than tripled over the prior decade, and recent studies suggest that this trend has continued. The raison d'être of an award may range from the promotion and recognition of breakthroughs across multiple disciplines, to the incentivisation of research in a highly specialized or neglected category. But if your research has implications beyond your immediate discipline, there is no need to limit yourself to one or the other. Find out what is out there, then narrow it down to one or two options that are particularly relevant to you.

TIP #2: Determine your eligibility

While recognition categories may range from broad to highly specialized, most scientific prizes or award programs work from a detailed list of eligibility requirements, which may include specific disciplines, research targets, or researcher demographics. For example, the Blavatnik National Awards recognize US-based tenured or tenure-track academic faculty ages 42 or younger, whereas the Blavatnik Regional Awards recognize outstanding postdoctoral researchers from institutions in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The Innovators in Science Award accepts nominations from a specific list of global institutions (but if your institution is not on the list you can petition to have it added). The Kavli Prize focuses exclusively on advances in Astrophysics, Nanoscience, or Neuroscience. The list goes on. Each prize is unique, and it pays to check eligibility guidelines first, before investing time in preparing your nomination materials.

Even if your institution opts not to nominate your research at all, the simple act of asking to be considered for nomination can raise your internal profile and increase the odds of future success.

Is Your Research Award-Worthy?

Tip #3: Don’t be shy!

The vast majority of award programs do not permit individuals to self-nominate—so called “limited submission” programs allow only a certain number of researchers to be put forward by a given institution. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to advance your cause. Most universities and research institutions have identified specific individuals and/or committees that can nominate on behalf of the institution. In the case of the Blavatnik National Awards, for example, each eligible institution has a designated nominator. Find out who these individuals are, and inquire (politely) whether you can be considered for nomination. Or, if you’re not comfortable approaching them directly, work through your research advisor or department head.  Different institutions may have different selection processes for each award program, so it pays to seek out information specific to the awards you’re interested in.

TIP #4: You are the best spokesperson for your research

Once you’ve been selected for nomination by your institution, take a moment to congratulate yourself…then get to work! Make it easy for your institutional nominator by reviewing the list of required nomination materials in advance, and getting started on their preparation. Typically this will include documents like a Research Summary, an up-to-date CV, a selection of your best scientific publications, and/or the names of people who can provide Letters of Support. Be sure to check with the awards program for specific details on what to include, how to format these documents, or any relevant word or page limits. Also, remember that many awards —especially those focused on early-career researchers—consider the future potential of the scientist being nominated, not just their discoveries.  Look for the most appropriate places in the application to highlight your strengths, and make it clear that you are a scientist worth investing in.

No one is more qualified to advocate for your research than you are, so resist the temptation to be modest, and make the case for why you, and your research, are indeed award-worthy!

TIP #5: Be patient, but persistent

The old maxim “If at first you don’t succeed…” may have been written with scientific prizes in mind. Many outstanding researchers are nominated multiple times before eventually winning an award, and in some instances being listed as a finalist will carry almost as much prestige as taking home the grand prize. Even if your institution opts not to nominate your research at all, the simple act of asking to be considered for nomination can raise your internal profile and increase the odds of future success.  If you believe that your research is truly transformational, keep advocating for it! If at first you don’t succeed…