SIAM News Blog

Why to Nominate for Prizes

By Nicholas Higham

We are in the prize season: that time of year when nominations for prizes from mathematical societies and other awarding bodies are being solicited. We see calls for nominations every year in a variety of media and it’s easy to ignore them. I’d like to suggest that you think about making a nomination.

Prizes exists for good reasons. They acknowledge and celebrate excellent contributions or service. They give prominence and publicity to the field in question within the wider community. And they help advance the careers of the winners (at least the more junior ones).

But a successful prize relies on a good pool of nominations, in both quality and quantity. Prize committees typically rely on nominations by others, and may only reluctantly make nominations themselves if that is allowed at all. (SIAM requires that if a prize committee makes its own nomination then it is documented and sent to the SIAM office in the same way as any other nomination). For a healthy prize the nominations should reflect the pool of eligible candidates. Today, more than ever, that means reflecting the diversity of the community in terms of subject area, gender, affiliation (university, lab, industry), geography and under-represented groups. Ensuring diversity of the nominations and of the committee itself is a good way of producing diversity of prize winners.

SIAM Prizes

As Vice President at Large of SIAM I chair the Major Awards Committee (MAC), which works hard to ensure the health of SIAM’s 14 major prizes, the 16 Activity Group prizes, and the 7 prizes organized jointly with other societies. The MAC would like to see a number of nominations in double digits for the major prizes and perhaps half that number for Activity Group prizes, all with suitable diversity. It has taken a number of steps:

  • The SIAM office contacts the previous prize committee and recent winners to ask for their help in soliciting nominations
  • Calls for nominations are advertised more widely than before
  • Guidelines have been provided on how to prepare an effective nomination 
  • Committee procedures have been documented to provide guidance to committees and to ensure good practice is followed
  • Unsuccessful nominations are rolled-over once, to the next year of award, provided they are still eligible.

Why Nominate?

It’s all too easy to assume that someone else will nominate a worthy colleague. But someone has to do it, so why not give it a go? It can be an enjoyable experience to prepare a case and explain why someone is worthy of recognition. In my experience you usually find out something you did not know about the candidate’s work or the field. And of course if you harbor ambitions to be nominated it’s only reasonable that you act as nominator yourself from time to time.

You should first check that you are eligible to nominate. For some of the big international prizes you have to be invited to make a nomination. But for math society prizes it is usually the case that anyone can make a nomination (and self-nominations are usually allowed, though are uncommon).

The Consequences of Low Nomination Numbers

The American Chemical Society has a rule that if the number of nominations for a prize falls below a threshold for 3 years running, then that prize is terminated. Even if such a rule is not in effect, one cannot assume that an awarding body will maintain a prize showing dwindling interest.

For all the above reasons I urge you to identify a suitable prize and nominee and make a nomination! For a start, see SIAM's open calls for nominations

   Nicholas Higham is the Richardson Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Manchester. He is President Elect of SIAM. 
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