APS News

Task Force for Prizes and Awards Report

APS prizes and awards are highly regarded by the scientific community and represent a wide range of disciplines, according to a report of the Task Force on APS Prizes and Awards delivered to the APS Executive Board in February. The report also states that there is a good match between the set of awards and the needs of the physics community. Nonetheless, the report also recommended steps intended to broaden the criteria for such honors to encourage more nominations, and suggested that new proposals for prizes and awards should be accepted only if they will benefit the overall portfolio without overlapping existing prizes and awards.

Chaired by Mildred Dresselhaus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the task force was charged with three major tasks: assessing the various prizes and awards to determine whether all sectors of the physics community were represented; providing advice to the APS Executive Board on whether to accept funding for additional prizes and awards, if offered; and considering whether existing criteria for prizes and awards should be broadened to encourage more nominations. Numerous other topics were also considered during the group's deliberations, including the establishment of minimum monetary amounts, policy on multiple recipients, and under which conditions an individual may receive more than one prize or award.

The task force suggested numerous criteria for consideration of proposals for any new prizes or awards. These include whether such honor covers a major field of interest, whether a prize already exists for this area, whether the proposal includes provisions for travel and expenses for recipients to attend the meeting at which the prize or award is presented, and whether it provides for a general review after a specific period of time to determine the continued relevance of the subject area and award.

With regard to broadening the criteria to encourage more nominations, the task force encouraged equal access to all prizes and awards in its report, without limitations on nationality or geographical location, or even APS membership. In fact, it was felt that the APS should require units with an interest in the discipline associated with the honor to review the suitability of its description to eliminate unnecessary restrictions. The review should be completed and submitted in written format within the next two years, according to the task force recommendations. To further encourage breadth, selection committees should discuss pre-eminent candidates for possible future nomination after selecting the current year's recipient. These potential candidates include foreign, minority and women candidates, as well as those previously nominated whose nomination has expired.

The task force made several other recommendations upon considering ancillary topics. For example, it was recommended that individual APS units be responsible for oversight of thesis awards, using the present model employed by the Division of Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics to select award recipients.

In addition, the task force recommended that all stipends for major prizes - currently ranging from $5000 to $10,000 - should be raised to $10,000 within the next five years. This recommendation is currently under review by the APS.

With regard to multiple recipients, single recipients should still be encouraged, unless sufficient justification is submitted to the APS Executive Board for awarding an honor to multiple individuals. To this end, selection committees are strongly encouraged to recognize only prime contributors to large team collaborative works, especially those involving more than one institution. "Only those who have made unique, original and indispensable contributions should be named as prize or award recipients," the task force concluded in its report. Furthermore, one individual should not receive more than one major APS prize for the same work, although a past award recipient would not be ineligible for subsequent recognition for a major prize if it is demonstrated that the work has been extended significantly.

Finally, funds associated with each prize and award should be available to cover travel expenses for recipients to attend the meeting at which they will be honored. Many prizes and awards already follow this procedure, but henceforth the task force recommended that those awards which do not specifically include such a policy should be structured to do so, unless other arrangements are stipulated. However, units may choose to pay recipient travel expenses directly rather than charging the prize or award fund. The task force report concluded with recommendations that the APS continue its practice of not charging overhead for administration of the prize and awards program; and that a standing oversight committee is not necessary to oversee this program, although a task force should be appointed every five years to review policy issues.

The other members of the APS Task Force on Prizes and Awards are Ronald Davidson, Princeton University; Katharine Gebbie, National Institute of Standards and Technology; Wick Haxton, University of Washington; Rolf Landauer, IBM/T.J. Watson Research laboratory; John Rowell, John Rowell, Inc.; and Frank Sciulli, Columbia University.

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin