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What are some typical ways that a department determines these awards?

Do thesis committees meet to discuss the year's thesis submissions and use some sort of voting system? What about awards such as most promising PhD student, or for significant contributions to field X? Is it also a meeting + voting system from a committee of tenured professors?

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    Short answer: Yes. – silvado Jan 20 '17 at 21:06
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    I like @silvado's answer. In my experience there is a committee of faculty members that make the decisions, which may be a unique committee or just one function of a broader committee. There is some nomination process to bring possible candidates to the attention of the committee. The particulars I'm certain vary greatly and depend on your department/program. – Bryan Krause Jan 20 '17 at 21:09
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    I've sat on such committees, and the process of awarding things like "most promising" involves ranking nominated students based on things like number of published papers, conference presentations (posters = oral), GPA, funding and letters of support by faculty. The committee itself is comprised of several faculty members. For thesis/dissertation awards, the nomination is made by the thesis committee and the thesis + letters of support by members of the committee are then forwarded to a university committee, who evaluates all such submissions from across the various faculties. – Inde Jan 21 '17 at 2:38

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