Is there any research/study that looked at the usefulness of giving awards in academia? By useful I mean weighting the positive and negative effects. I'm interested in three kinds of awards: awards to students, awards to teachers, and awards to researchers. (let me know if I should post as 3 different questions)

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    A quick Google Scholar search shows a lot of research on the topic in the context of students and people in general. My naive guess is that researchers wouldn't be much different. – Austin Henley Aug 8 '15 at 17:37
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    Useful to whom? The recipient, the rewarding institution? – vonbrand Aug 8 '15 at 19:04
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    Academia is all about recognition, awards are one of many complementary ways. – Marc Claesen Aug 8 '15 at 20:09
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    @MarcClaesen: I thought that academia is about advancing knowledge, whereas recognition is a side effect, sadly, often optional and/or not timely. – Aleksandr Blekh Aug 8 '15 at 23:15
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    Are there many countries with a culture of awards to students and teachers? In Italy awards to students are rare and I've never heard of awards to teachers. – Massimo Ortolano Aug 9 '15 at 7:42

This answer on Mathoverflow summarizes a study on the "productivity" of past winners of Fields medals (the most important award in mathematics; it is given each four years to four mathematicians under 40 years old).

The study is Prizes and Productivity: How Winning the Fields Medal Affects Scientific Output (2013), George J. Borjas and Kirk B. Doran.

TL;DR: The paper analyzes the output of 47 Field winners and 43 mathematicians of comparable level (often, people who were rumored to be "in the shortlist"). After winning the medals, their statistics diverge visibly. Field winners write about 20% fewer papers than non-winners, in the post-medal period, and seem to have slightly lower productivity, in general. However, there is another significant effect: they tend to enlarge their views and extend their research interests extend to other areas of mathematics, much more than non-winners, who tend to continue in the same area (25% vs. 10% probability of "cognitive mobility"). This necessarily comes with a cost, since one can't be productive immediately in a new area.

(and, to me, top mathematicians working on bridging areas of mathematics and looking for a unifying breakthrough is a great thing.)


Awards are fully useful for one's progression within his/her position and could be classified into two different categories:

  • Awards, are which internationally recognized. This awards would be known to majority of the corresponding community and with due attention to their validity, no proof might often be need to validate the holder's claim.

  • Awards, are which regional and people often would be asked to prove them, by means of the corresponding certificate or other related documents.

Obviously, first category could be more worthy, and some of the typical sample award sources and their utilization could be enumerated, as below:

For students:

  • Certificate of the ranking among the students of the department/university.

  • Award, corresponding to the best paper of the young researcher, presented in a conference/congress/symposium.

  • Any dedicated governmental, industry-driven or university-based scholarship.

  • Any ranking, corresponding to the olympiads.

  • ...

All of the aforementioned awards could lead to the acquisition of the better positions for the student in view of either professional job vacancy or research positions. The undeniable role of the awards to be recognized for the noticeable financial supports is not negligible, as well.

For professors:

  • Best paper honor for a professor in a conference/congress/symposium.

  • Submission & accomplishment of some prestigious patents.

  • Selected as the best lecturer at a university for a determined time interval.

  • ...

All of the aforementioned awards could lead to the increasing the dedicated budget of the university to that professor, improving his/her fame in the scientific community (would which lead to some especial progressions, like promotion as editor or editor-in-chief of a journal) and so on. Moreover, the professor would be invited as the guest lecturer to teach at different universities.

For researchers:

  • Any outstanding award, stemming from shining accomplishments in the science realm, like Noble prize.

  • Special epithets for highly-respectful fellows, as the member of a scientific society, like "life member" in "IEEE".

  • ...

The researcher's validity to be resourceful would be strengthened. Especially, in the case of PostDoc researchers, such awards could pave their way to be hired in a desired faculty position.

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    The question asks "Is there any research/study that looked at the usefulness of giving awards in academia?" and is tagged reference-request to indicate that answers should be supported by references to such a study. So while this may be a perfectly fine answer to the general titular question on whether awards are useful, it completely misses the mark on the specifics of the question. – ff524 Oct 11 '15 at 5:26

protected by Community Nov 11 '15 at 11:43

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