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Becoming ‘award-ready’

by Amber Charlebois, Chair, Women Chemists Committee
September 5, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 35

Credit: SUNY Geneseo
Photo of Amber Charlebois.
Credit: SUNY Geneseo

The music was loud, the energy was high, and there was much celebrating at the ChemLuminary Awards ceremony, held last month at the ACS national meeting in Philadelphia. ACS local sections and divisions were being recognized for their outstanding accomplishments in 2015.

Members of my local section were not personally experiencing the excitement, however. This year, our local section was not being considered for any of the ChemLuminary Awards. As the announcer called the award winners’ names, we were not listening with anticipation. We clapped and cheered for the other groups that were selected, but it was not the same as if we were up for an award ourselves. It turns out you have to be nominated to win.

This experience reminded me of a much larger issue: the low numbers of ACS national award nominations from underrepresented groups and employment sectors. This contributes to the low number of awardees from these groups.

There is a need for us all to become “award-ready” to optimize our chances of being honored for the work that we do. Consider the message printed on the reverse side of the Women Chemists Committee (WCC) periodic table business cards that were distributed during the national meeting: “ACS national award nominees were 17% female for 2017, compared to 14% female in 2016. ACS membership is 29% female. More nominations are still needed. Nominate a woman chemist for an award this November!”

This message received a variety of responses.

▸ Some people celebrated because they thought that having ACS membership at 29% female was a great accomplishment.

▸ Others were frustrated because having 17% of national award nominees be female is still far below the 29% of membership that is female.

▸Others celebrated because the percentage of women nominees continues to increase.

The reputation of either the nominee or the nominator is not enough on which to base an award. Working with others on preparing nomination packages can help create more successful packages.

The low number of award nominations for women, along with other underrepresented groups and employment sectors, is a complex problem. We are making progress, but collectively we need to continue to work together to address the many factors involved.

So what does it take to become “award-ready”? Solutions to increasing both the number and the quality of national award nominations were discussed in Philadelphia at the symposium “Increasing Successful Awards Nominations from Underrepresented Groups,” organized by WCC, the ACS Board Committee on Grants & Awards, and the ACS Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board.

The panel discussion highlighted how we need to do the following:

▸ understand nomination and selection processes;

▸ prepare nomination packages that reflect how they will be reviewed;

▸ conduct nomination and selection processes with the same professionalism used for publications and other scholarly endeavors;

▸ invest in efforts to prepare potential nominees, as well as nominators and canvasing committees, and expand the pool; and

▸ take efforts to minimize inherent bias throughout the nomination and selection processes.

An ACS webinar on Sept. 20 will delve into strategies from the panel discussion.

As potential nominees and nominators, we need to seek and serve as effective coaches, advocates, and champions. Successful nominees have people who provide insights on how the world of awards works, encourage them to prepare to be nominated, and highlight their strengths even before they are nominated.

As a community, we need to help each other understand what makes nomination packages successful and coordinate efforts to prepare such packages. As we share examples, develop criteria and rubrics, and write nomination letters and other materials, we need to focus on impact. The reputation of either the nominee or the nominator is not enough on which to base an award. Working with others on preparing nomination packages can help create more successful packages.

As a society, we need to provide venues for further discussions, training, and assistance. We should start long before ACS national awards, working with others on local and regional awards. We can offer additional webinars. We need to keep tracking and disaggregating the data.

Collective efforts are important for our profession. It is hard to believe that, even counting the 2017 awards, there are still 16 ACS national awards that have never had a female winner.

Remember that you have to be nominated to win. In 2012, 40% of the national awards had no female nominees. For the 2017 awards, that decreased to 17%. We are making progress, but we need to improve and sustain the good numbers.

We need to continue our efforts to ­become more “award-ready” so that all of us, regardless of group or sector, can ­experience the excitement of having our accomplishments and contributions be recognized as nominees and award winners.

Nominations for the 2018 ACS national awards close on Nov. 1 and can be submitted at

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.



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