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For instance, Katalin Karikó, key researcher in mRNA technology in immunology and therapies got a bunch of awards in 2021 as a result of the COVID19 vaccine being developed based on her work.

Did someone on Karikó's behalf fill out applications and nominations for each of these awards/prizes/medals, or had the publicity from her work just lead these organizations to pick her because they just know how impactful and important her work is?

Edit: I want to emphasize the question is not about self-nomination, it's about getting awards without applying or being nominated at all.

The question is, does anyone ever win awards/prizes/etc. because the accomplishment is so major and widely known that the committee just says "There's no doubt, this is the clear winner, it's so impactful that no nomination/application is required or expected."

The COVID19 vaccine based on mRNA work is a prime example. It literally affects every human being on the planet in a life or death way, right now.

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    It doesn't really have anything to do with "achievements speaking for themselves" but rather how committees, organizations and formal processes work in the modern age. In fact most awards (whether in academia or not) are voted on by a large group of people ("members" typically) and so in order to focus and not waste their time, there is almost always as smaller group of people (the "nominating" or "nominations" committee) who review a much larger list of candidates and narrow it down for the larger voting membership. Dec 24 '21 at 19:16
  • @RBarryYoung That is exactly my point. Does the nomination/application process ever get skipped because the accomplishment is so obvious the award/prize organization already knows about its importance and impact?
    – iwantmyphd
    Dec 24 '21 at 19:23
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    That would be subverting the power of the committee and supplanting the rights of the members. The only times things like that happen is when one person (or a small group) have near-absolute power in the process (such as an autocratic president pardoning people without respect or regard for what his own people recommend). It has nothing to do with worthiness of the cause or award, and everything to do with the exercise of power within the system. Dec 24 '21 at 19:28
  • @RBarryYoung Thanks, you make a very interesting point. So is it fair to say that the case of Katalin Karikó, when the COVID19 vaccine had shown a major effect, colleagues/coworkers of Karikó's at BioNTech or Univ. of Pennsylvania nominated her?
    – iwantmyphd
    Dec 24 '21 at 20:25
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    In the interest of transparency and upholding meritocracy, you can't really skip the process, even though it's an easy or obvious case. There are many people who do not know why someone received an award. Also, with any case you think it's a slam dunk, there will be at least one person who disagrees, and may lodge a formal complain. Hence, it's best to follow due process.
    – VitaminE
    Dec 24 '21 at 20:26
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In general, the process of awarding awards is as follows:

  1. The organisation bestowing the award has an 'award committee' (which may deal with one or more distinct awards). Often this will include ex-officio representatives of the organisation and (perhaps) previous awardees.
  2. The committee solicit nominations for the award. Usually there is a prescribed form for the nomination package, e.g. a one-page statement on why the individual deserves the award and a copy of their CV, plus a certain number of letters of support. There will usually be some restrictions on nominators: commonly, self-nominations are not accepted, and a nominee's recent collaborators/students/supervisors/etc may be excluded from writing letters of support. Often, nominators have to be connected to the awarding organisation in some way. Members of the award committee are often barred from supporting nominations directly, but they may be influential in encouraging others to make nominations.
  3. The committee meets to consider such nominations as have been received, and select a worthy recipient.

Of course, when self-nominations are not accepted, people can (and do!) ask friends or colleagues to consider nominating them for particular awards.

In response to question edit: No doubt there are exceptions, but usually an awarding organisation will have bylaws (or similar) that stipulate the procedure that must be followed. The committee cannot disregard these. However, the individuals on the committee may choose to put less effort into advertising and encouraging nominations if the outcome is 'obvious', and the meeting to determine a recipient may be brief.

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  • Appreciate the response, but the question is more about achievements speaking for themselves than about "self-nomination" per se. I've rewritten to be more clear.
    – iwantmyphd
    Dec 24 '21 at 18:21
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Grigori Perelman solved the Poincaré conjecture and for this a committee voted to award him a Fields Medal but he turned it down. Since that was also a Millenium Prize problem, he was offered that award as well but similarly turned that down. So in a sense, his work spoke for itself but he just chose not to accepted the awards.

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    That doesn't mean there were no nominations, of course. I would expect that there were many for the Fields, actually. The Millennium Prize award is automatic, however, once the result has verification.
    – Buffy
    Dec 24 '21 at 21:49
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    This is true, but I interpreted the question in the sense of, is it possible to win awards purely by research alone where your peers will recognize you and you personally will not have write applications to be recognized Dec 24 '21 at 22:01
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    @Ihatepostingonline You are spot on in your interpretation. Thank you!
    – iwantmyphd
    Dec 24 '21 at 22:24
  • why did he turn down two massive awards ?
    – Yasir
    Dec 27 '21 at 8:42
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The vast majority of awards available to scientists are given out by scientific organizations. Eligibility is limited to dues-paying members of the organization, or a subset thereof. The award takes a small portion of the dues paid by members and returns them to a member.

Receiving the award is indicative of:

  • willingness to pay dues to the organization
  • popularity among a small number of organization's members who select the award recipient

A small minority awards available to scientists, like Nobel Prizes, do actually reflect major achievements. They are not self-nominated. In most cases, a scientist's achievements are recognized by publication in an important journal and the award of grants. These are "self nominated" in the sense that the scientist submits them to journals and funding agencies.

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  • Appreciate the response, but the question is more about achievements speaking for themselves than about "self-nomination" per se. I've rewritten to be more clear.
    – iwantmyphd
    Dec 24 '21 at 18:21
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    I think the rewriting is actually less clear. Award announcements usually state the criteria for the award; maybe you should look at them. Dec 24 '21 at 18:50
  • Do you have any examples?
    – iwantmyphd
    Dec 24 '21 at 19:20
  • I suggest you check with a scientific society that interests you. If you want comprehensive information about academic awards, there is a paid database: researchprofessional.com Dec 24 '21 at 19:27
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For prestigious awards, I'd suspect that self-nomination is rare, but nomination by someone in the community is very common and likely required in almost all cases. A committee is unlikely to choose on its own to avoid questions of bias, such as in-group bias.

A friend of mine won a top award in CS from ACM. A group of us were involved in his nomination and support for that nomination. He had no part in the process and was surprised when it happened. Certainly Nobel prizes work that way, though some people lobby for nominations.

For minor awards, however, self nomination might be acceptable and accepted. In the ACM, one can apply for Senior Member status (IIRC), though it has little prestige value. But Distinguished Member requires outside nomination.

But for some local things, such as teaching awards from a university, a committee might decide to give the award and the recipient will be surprised when it happens. This just happened to my daughter. This works locally since the community has knowledge of potential awardees and can easily gather more information.

But nomination in some form has to happen. They don't spring forth from the forehead of Zeus. It is possible that someone in the committee makes a nomination/recommendation, but, as said above, for prestigious awards they probably come from outside, perhaps, as in the case of my friend from several people who can support the reasons for the nomination.

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  • Appreciate the response, but the question is more about achievements speaking for themselves than about "self-nomination" per se. I've rewritten to be more clear.
    – iwantmyphd
    Dec 24 '21 at 18:21
  • At one point, it fell to me, as my department’s personnel committee chair, to try to get awards for faculty. So I sent an e-mail to all departmental faculty asking if anyone wanted to be nominated. One faculty did, and knew the award they correctly felt they deserved. Long story short, it was easy to get very strong nomination letters of recommendation, the nomination package was not much work, and the faculty member won. It did not hurt that one of the letters was from a future Nobelist! That was one of the more enjoyable service activities, in stark contrast to merit pay.
    – Ed V
    Dec 24 '21 at 21:02

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