I am a PhD student and I recently won a young scientist award and prize money (~500 USD) at a conference for the "best presentation". I did the majority of the work for the presentation, and I was the only one present at the conference. However, my co-authors (8 people) all wrote their share for the conference proceedings (that's what makes them co-authors). The co-authors are in various stages of their career, from professors to fellow PhD students.

  1. Should I share my prize money with the co-authors? If yes, with all of them in equal amounts? Or only with those who would be eligible for a young scientist award themselves?
  2. Would it change the situation if I won the award for something else, say "best paper"?
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    What if, instead of money, it was an object? Does the answer still applies or something changes? – Fábio Dias Nov 24 '15 at 19:55
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    is your name the only one on the reward? if so then of course you shouldn't share it—it's your money. don't give your money away unless it's to a charity. – ell Nov 25 '15 at 0:05
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    There are some excellent answers already, but if my student won an award, my first and only inclination would be to congratulate them, and tell them to enjoy having a little breathing room on making rent next month. – Fomite Nov 25 '15 at 2:37
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    @FábioDias: I'd suggest as a take-home message for organizers how decide what prizes should be there to think twice whether they really want to hand out money. Actually, most of the prizes I got were books (sometimes allowing some choice of book). A book, possibly signed by the jury, is IMHO much better. – cbeleites Nov 25 '15 at 16:54
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    @cbeleites: Don't take it too seriously, but your comment reminded me of: "Homer: Aw, twenty dollars? I wanted a peanut! Homer's Brain: Twenty dollars can buy many peanuts. Homer: Explain how! Homer's Brain: Money can be exchanged for goods and services." – Pete L. Clark Nov 25 '15 at 18:07

11 Answers 11


First, let me say that I really like jakebeal's answer and his dinner idea. Some of the other answers make good points as well. However, none of the answers so far address the key point of whether morally the award is meant for you alone or also for your coauthors, except for Stephen Kolassa's answer, which I think gets it entirely backwards.

By your description, the award is a young scientist award and monetary prize, given for the "best presentation". It has your name on it. You are the person who actually showed up at the conference and delivered this "best presentation"; presumably it was your good performance that won you this honor. Moreover, the conference organizers speak English (or whatever language "best presentation" was translated from) and know full well the difference between the meaning of "best presentation" and "best paper" and between the meaning of "award given to young scientist X" and "award given to paper authors X, Y and Z". I think it is presumptuous and rather inappropriate for some of us to be questioning their intent here. They wanted to give you the award, not your coauthors. So, from a moral/ethical point of view, I see no principle that says you have any obligation to share the award money in any way, either by a cash distribution or by paying for a dinner. One could even hypothetically argue (depending on whether traveling to the conference was a burden for you and something the other coauthors wished to avoid) that it is the other coauthors who should be paying for your dinner.

With that said, from the practical point of view would it be a good idea for you to share the prize money? Well, if I were your coauthor I would flatly refuse to accept any share of the money, for the reasons stated above. I would also find it a bit strange to be invited to a dinner at your expense. I would not take offense to such an invitation, and I find the dinner idea appealing in general, but I would politely tell you that you deserve to keep the award money and I prefer to pay for my own dinner. I also find it very hard to imagine any professor who would feel slighted by not being offered to share in the prize money from a PhD student's young scientist award, so I find Stephen Kolassa's talk of making enemies a bit unreasonable. The one aspect of the prize-sharing suggestions that I can agree with is that it may make sense to offer the other PhD student coauthors a share of the prize money (or a free dinner), purely as a gesture showing kindness and generosity on your part. I don't think you are obligated to do this in any moral sense, but it will very probably win you some good will that may be helpful to you down the road, and is just a nice thing to do in general.

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    The "making enemies" part was not about making enemies of established professors. I explicitly had the other grad students in mind. I agree that taking them out to dinner may be better than parceling out cash (if practical). However, keeping all to yourself because it was a best presentation award risks coming across as arrogant, whether this impression is justified or not. And yes, that's exactly the kind of thing people will discuss over beers. "Did you hear about that guy who got a fat award but didn't share it with his labmates?" You don't want that. – Stephan Kolassa Nov 24 '15 at 20:32
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    @StephanKolassa okay, thanks for the clarification. Maybe it's because I'm not in a lab science, but I still completely don't get where you're coming from. If someone said to me "did you hear about the guy who got an award that was given to him, in his name, for a presentation he gave, and he didn't share it with his labmates?", I would shrug and say "yes, I heard about him. Good for him for doing a good job." I'm sure there's something in your experiences that is leading you to see this "making enemies" scenario as plausible, but it just doesn't resonate with any of my own experience. – Dan Romik Nov 24 '15 at 21:14
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    I feel similarly with Dan Romik (and am in the same field as he is, which is not a laboratory science). I find the idea that other graduate students will hold a lifelong grudge against the OP for not divvying up his prize money (btw $500 is non-negligible money for a grad student, but calling it a "fat award" seems like a stretch) in a situation in which he did the majority of the work on the paper and the presentation and was the only one to attend the conference. The other coauthors of the paper are getting something: coauthorship on a prize-winning paper..... – Pete L. Clark Nov 24 '15 at 21:27
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    ...In my view, a much more plausible moral for a fellow graduate student coauthor to draw here is "Wow, the graduate student who took the lead on a project I was working on got to present at a conference and even won an award. That's great for him, but I wish it had happened to me. Aha: I'll step up my involvement on the next project -- and/or find another project in which I know I can play the lead role -- and maybe it will happen to me too." – Pete L. Clark Nov 24 '15 at 21:30
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    @qsp and PeteL.Clark, the paper is not award-winning. The award was for best presentation, which -- as I was saying in my answer -- is an honor the other coauthors cannot claim a part in. (PeteL.Clark got this detail right in his answer but apparently had a bit of a slip-up in the comment above.) – Dan Romik Nov 27 '15 at 7:04

I think that it is important to recognize that the biggest value of the award is its contribution to your C.V. and future career, not the prize money. As such, I think you should approach the question of the money as generously as possible: after all, you gave a good talk, but many of the aspects of that good talk depended critically on the contributions of your co-authors.

What, then, is a fair way of allocating the money? Pretty much any numerical formula that you follow will both a) leave some people feeling that their allocation is too big or too small and also b) only be a few dollars anyway, given the number of people involved.

I would therefore recommend defusing the question entirely and turning the prize money into an investment into future goodwill and papers: suggest that it be spent on going out for a fancy dinner together (or similar such outing) to celebrate the success of the collaboration!

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    This was the answer that leapt immediately to my mind while reading the question. Handing out bits of cash just seems wrong. A nice dinner out with everyone would be nice, and the award pretty much covers it at a decent restaurant. If a little under, you keep the spare change; a little over and you cover it. This is about them and their help in making everyone successful (including you). – Jon Custer Nov 24 '15 at 14:27
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    Good idea! What if the some of the co-authors are not from my university, but based in another country (i.e. it's not practical for them to attend a dinner)? – traindriver Nov 24 '15 at 15:56
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    @traindriver I've been a key remote co-author in a situation like that---not another country, but more than 1000 miles away. We waited a few months until there was an opportunity where most of the key authors would be in the same city, and had our celebration then. Not everybody could make it, but an attempt was made to be as inclusive as possible, and nobody demanded perfection. – jakebeal Nov 24 '15 at 16:17
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    @traindriver If waiting for the co-authors to be present is not practical, send the remote co-authors a gift basket or some nice flowers. – brian_o Nov 24 '15 at 20:19
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    I'd suggest to take into account the culture in your group. To me a poster prize would rank slightly above acceptance of an important paper. If a paper is celebrated by the first author bringing a cake, then a poster prize should be celebrated somewhere between cake and BBQ. I'd strongly suggest not to tie the celebration to the monetary value of the prize, as I think the monetary value that is handed out depends more on how good the organizers are at finding a poster prize sponsor than on the amount and quality of work behind the poster. – cbeleites Nov 25 '15 at 17:05

First of all I give a frowny face to everyone who suggested that a graduate student try to divvy up a $500 "young scientist best presentation award" with post-PhD personnel. At least in US academic culture, that borders on the ridiculous. Postdocs make about twice as much money as graduate students, and professors make at least three times as much money as graduate students. $500 may actually make some difference in a student's life: e.g. they could perhaps buy a new bed rather than sleeping on a futon with a broken plank (to take an example from my own graduate student days). If I was a coauthor on this paper I would have absolutely no expectation of a share of the $500. I wouldn't be offended by such an offer, but in my mind it would be a terrible mistake to put any of my student's prize money in my own pocket. (I gave @Stephan Kolassa's answer a downvote for the suggestion that the OP is compelled to do this or it will haunt him for the rest of his career. No way.)

I agree with Dan Romik's answer, which calls attention to the fact that the people who made the award are probably as familiar as we are with academic life and linguistic nuances: when they say the award is for the presentation and that it is awarded only to the presenter as a young scientist, surely they mean precisely that. If one agrees with the ethics of this then it seems to me that the only people the OP should contemplate splitting the award with are other graduate students who were involved in preparing the presentation.

He says that the prepared the majority of the presentation, which I find to be of some significance. In my much more individualized branch of academia I have never collaborated with anyone on a talk or conference presentation; even when I am describing joint work, the description of it is entirely my own. (Occasionally I have had the chance to watch a collaborator present on joint work with me, which can be very enlightening: their presentation is always different from mine; sometimes it is better, sometimes it is worse, and sometimes it is just different.) It could be (but might not be; I won't pretend to know) an assumption of those who gave the award that the OP singlehandedly prepared the presentation. If he got significant help from someone else, then that should have been clearly reflected in the presentation itself, and it might be worth raising that issue with the conference organizers. Here I would determine significant both by the total proportion of the presentation prepared and its role in essentially improving the presentation. Routine help should be paid back with gratitude and reciprocal routine help. Many professionals could feel embarrassed by the suggestion that routine help entitles them to a share of an academic prize.

I do want to admit that one could question the ethics of a prize which is given to an individual for work which is known to be collaborative. In my field (mathematics) awards given for conference presentations are very rare, and I remember that within the last year I read about a fairly prominent award given for a "best presentation" at a conference. I can't quite summon all the details now, but I do remember scouring CVs of the various parties involved to try to figure out whether the collaborators on the paper were getting short-changed for this. I found it a bit weird. However for a graduate student with eight coauthors to refuse a $500 prize on ethical grounds seems really impractical. If all parties agree that this is an improper recognition of an individual for a team effort, then it could be handled internally by not viewing the money as being individual money at all: it could be used only for expenditures by that group of coauthors, e.g. as funding for a different coauthor to speak on the work (or some continuation of it).

Finally, let me say that sometimes academics make mountains out of molehills, and I see a bit of that in the answers to this question (including mine!). If the OP takes the money, writes warm thanks to all of his collaborators, and tells his advisor to let him know if any further action is warranted on his part, I think he'll be fine.

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    Even though I make a proposal different than yours, I agree with much of the spirit in your answer. I suspect that that differences between fields play in here as well, e.g. is the presentation considered good because it exposits a mathematical result nicely (in which case it's much more about the presenter in particular) or because the laboratory results it shows are exciting (in which case it's more about the whole team)? Personally, I would also be annoyed at the conference organizers for putting the presenter into an uncomfortable position with respect to their coauthors! – jakebeal Nov 24 '15 at 20:03
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    @jakebeal: Well, in this particular case I see some indications that the award is being given for the presentation rather than the presented work. First it says "best presentation" rather than "best paper" (the OP picked up on that too). Second, the award is being given to a "young scientist". It doesn't make much sense (to me) to reward an entire research team because one of its nine members is a young scientist. But all of this takes place a bit outside my academic comfort zone anyway... – Pete L. Clark Nov 24 '15 at 20:26
  • No disagreement from me about the logical interpretation. I've also seen exactly the opposite being done in some computer science and biology meetings, where a young investigator award for presentation is given to an individual based (in significant part) on the content produced by a multi-person research team that includes people who are not young investigators. – jakebeal Nov 24 '15 at 22:10

First, if you have spent some of your own money, I believe part of the prize ought to cover it.

Second, a "young scientist award" sounds personal. Yet, awarded at a conference, where awards are (usually) not granted on "paper only", communication is part of the package, where all co-authors have taken part. So the award "should" go to all the team, just like for a journal paper. From your side, offering something with it is the best: barbecue party, restaurant, personalized gifts, than can re-enforce the links between the publishing team. They can decline the offer, to leave you with the money. Their call.

Side story: I won a presentation award with another PhD student, whom I did not meet (not in the same country): we co-wrote the paper by mail. Since we met two years later only, I offered him a wire transfer, which he declined. Recently, the PhD student I supervise won an award. We (the seniors) immediately told her to keep it.

The result will be a balance between what you propose, and what they offer.


A PhD student I worked with recently won a $2000 prize in giving a talk at a conference. I know he's worked hard and earned the prize entirely, even given a large amount of help given by me. It was still his work and his presentation!

Never the less I came in to find a bottle of Whisky (nice single malt) on my desk and similar gifts on his co-authors desks.

I was touched, the thought meant a lot to me even though I hadn't expected or wanted anything at all. Just something to think about.


I'm not sure it is a rule, but one way to do this is that the presenter takes half the prize money, and the remaining authors share the other half. If the coauthors decline receiving money, you can keep their share. ("Source": I have received a quarter of half the prize money from a presentation at a conference)


It depends on who the collaborators are, to me. $500 is a ton of money for some Ph.D. students, and I don't think a prof would begrudge not being in on the split. If the money is situation-changing for you, I'd limit the split to the STUDENTS on the project who actually contributed.

If the money isn't important, I'd try to do something a bit nicer than splitting it up. Maybe taking your collaborators out to a medium-priced dinner with it would be a nice gesture.


The award was for presentation, and it sounds like that was pretty well all your own work. If it had been for Best Paper, then yes, the situation would be different and you would have much more reason to at least offer shares to your co-authors (although in that case I would've expected it to be awarded to all the co-authors already).

So you are entitled to the money, and will keep the credit on your CV anyway. However, it would still be good to acknowledge your co-authors. The amount of money you use for that depends on your own circumstances and feelings - using it all for a communal dinner as suggested would be great, but if you need the money you can also do something much smaller. For example, providing a large cake at the next get-together of the authors with a little speech "I wanted to get this to thank you all for the satisfaction of working together on the paper. It made it so easy to present enthusiastically because .....". Similarly if co-authors are remote, you could just send them chocolates, cake or something similar with a little note.

[Of course, in this day and age you need to pay attention to those who have allergies, are on a diet, hate chocolate etc ..... but hopefully you can find something suitable]


Try to figure out a good way to ask them what they think, in a way that they will feel free to say what they really think.

That won't be easy--I try it all the time, and try to think what the other person would have to say if they said what they really wanted, and how socially difficult it would be to do it. However, it is what you're most interested in, it seems--what would they think is fair?

You could say you asked here or "asked around" and then say something along the lines of "people gave the following suggestions, what do you guys think? I want your honest opinions, because I want this to be something we all feel good about and not something where there will be hard feelings among people who I consider valued collaborators."

One more thing to keep in mind--you might end up needing to report this on your taxes, and prizes are (or were, last time I checked, which was a long time ago) taxed pretty heavily in the US--you might want to find out what the deal is locally wherever you are.

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    In the US prizes are taxed as ordinary nonemployment income, neither specially penalized nor specially advantaged. The rate on ordinary income is progressive depending on your total taxable income, and generally PhD students will be in the lower brackets (15% or possibly 25%) -- unless married filing joint with a spouse who has a good-paying job, which is possible. If the OP should share at all, I would certainly think it fair and reasonable to share only the post-tax portion, whatever that is. – dave_thompson_085 Nov 26 '15 at 0:11

Morally, I'd say "Sure, share it with them - right when they share their higher salaries and research budgets with you..."

... but think about it as money you can use for political reasons. That is, consider spending it on something which advances your standing either with your research time, your department, future collaborators etc. Also, following @StephenKolassa's suggestion very partially, try to sort of hint at what you intend to do with the money, to give other the opportunity to lay a claim to it, even if you think it's baseless. Better to discuss it openly then for someone to feel you ran off with the money... and probably they won't say anything.

That's my $0.02 anyway.


Yes, you should share the prize money.

I can't think of a better way of ticking off many people right at the beginning of your career than not sharing the money. You do not want to make enemies over this. An issue like this could follow you for decades. Don't make that error.

For the same reason, share it equally, so people don't feel shortchanged.

I understand that the difference between 500 USD and 500/8 = 62.50 USD is nontrivial to you, but the main benefit of the award will be its presence on your CV, not so much the money.

And anyone on your team who already has tenure will most likely decline their share, leaving more to share among the struggling grad students, anyway.

And I don't see how the argument would be different for a "best paper" or other award.

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    As a postdoc, I would never accept money from a phd candidate. Even less as a professor. – Fábio Dias Nov 24 '15 at 19:46

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