I am one of a group of students organising an institute-wide symposium (by and) for PhD students. PhD students will be invited to apply to give a short talk (about 8 spaces in total) or to present a poster (~40 perhaps).

We intend to award prizes for best talk and best poster. It is my view that it is fairer and kinder to have two runners-up in each category and to spread the prize so that more individuals are recognised for their good work and effort. To me, awarding prizes only for 1st place, or 1st and 2nd, ends up assigning reward in a noisy fashion or according to bias in the judging, which ignores the fact that there are many good students doing diverse work at the institute.

My peers did not seem to find this nor the format of judging important - but I feel that spending institute money on rewards in a competition style ought to be done thoughtfully and properly. Having a narrow prize spread acts as a greater incentive in tournament theory; but in my mind the symposium is an infrequent instance of recognition, not incentive, and assigning the prize will be noisy or biased which is smoothed out by spreading the prize.

How much prize spreading do you think is appropriate or optimal? Also, how much monetary value of prize do you think is appropriate in this setting? £100 for first place talk has been suggested. Is this better/worse than a £25/£25/£50 spread? I'd like to hear about people's previous experience with running these competitions and/or winning one of these awards.

  • 4
    Minor nitpick. Instead of calling them "Runner-Up", possibly call this "Honorable Mention."
    – Compass
    Mar 3, 2015 at 17:52
  • @Compass - I disagree. Runner-up means "something". Honorable mention sounds like some crap ribbon you get for "trying".
    – blankip
    Mar 3, 2015 at 19:34

1 Answer 1


I am a volunteer with the IEEE in Connecticut, USA. Each year, we give prizes to EE-related projects at the Connecticut Science & Engineering Fair at Quinnipiac University. This is a fair for High School students (mostly) to present their projects.

What we do is award a first place for each of the Senior and Junior sections of the fair. This prize is worth $200. Then we award $100 prizes to 6 other students as "Honorable Mentions". These other six tend to be 3 for the Seniors and 3 for the Juniors, but it depends on the relative quality of each pool.

To answer your question is a little hard. Here is the full list of science project abstracts at this year's fair. Not all of those (or even half) are EE-related. My guess is that we'd start with a list of about 100 projects (50 each in Senior vs Junior) and then make a determination from there.

  • Thanks Peter! Could you give me an indication of the proportion of rewarded students out of the whole pool of participants? In our case awarding 3 would give ~3/8 for talks and <1/10 for posters.
    – Teige
    Mar 3, 2015 at 17:57
  • @Teige: Some attempt made.
    – Peter K.
    Mar 3, 2015 at 20:23

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