Awards and honours can be an important element of your career development. They provide external, peer recognition of your stature as a potential leader (for early career researchers) or leader (for established scholars) in your field. This can help distinguish you in future grant or fellowship competitions. Furthermore, not all awards are simply honours; many come with (often substantial) research funds (and often on more flexible terms than grant funds). Awards and honours are also another way to make your research and its impacts known to the wider public.
RSO maintains a comprehensive database of research honours and awards in our Honours & Award Calendar. If you know of any that are not in our calendar, please notify us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Internal awards: The University of Guelph has two internal awards programs to recognize its research leaders. The University Research Excellence Awards ($5000) is an annual award for recently tenured faculty (one per College), while the University Research Leadership Chairs awards $15,000/year over three years to recognize mid to late career faculty with proven records of distinguished and sustained scholarly work.
- Disciplinary honours & awards: Many academic and industry organizations give awards or honours for achievement in particular fields of study. For example, the International Fertilizer Association awards the Norman Borlaug Award for advances in plant nutrition. The University of Guelph’s Dr. Claudia-Wagner Riddle won this award in 2020. This is a great place to start pursuing honours and awards; being recognized at the disciplinary level builds your track record and helps to make you competitive for broader national and international awards and fellowships.
- Membership/fellowship in academic academies: Certain academic organizations “elect” people annually for membership. While there is generally not funding associated with these honours, membership indicates that you are considered a leader in your field. Examples include the Royal Society of Canada, Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, and the Canadian Academy of Engineering Fellowship.
- Tri-Agency awards: NSERC, SSHRC, and CIHR have a number of tri-agency awards for research achievements supported by Tri-Agency funds. These awards generally come with significant (and flexible) research funding.
- Fellowships: There are a number of prestigious fellowships that provide funding and time for you to dedicate to your research. These include the Sloan Research Fellowship (an early career award in science and engineering), the Guggenheim Fellowship (all disciplines), the Fulbright Scholar Awards (all disciplines), the NSERC Arthur B. Macdonald Fellowship (science and engineering), and the Killam Research Fellowship (all disciplines).
- Project-based awards & prizes: While most awards are for overall research achievement and impact, there are some awards and prizes for particular projects or initiatives that demonstrate significant impact and innovation. An example is the Governor General’s Innovation Awards. There are also a number of prize competitions launched to solve particular challenges. These include the NATO Innovation Challenge, MIT Solve, and the X Prize. These are not traditional awards, but initiatives, usually from private companies or government, that respond to timely challenges. Competitions are normally conducted in rounds and prize money awarded to finalists.
- Major national and international prizes & honours: Once you have built a record of innovative research impact that has been recognized by publications in prestigious journals, high-value and prestigious grants, and disciplinary honours and awards, you will be competitive for major national and international prizes. Prestigious national awards include the Royal Society of Canada (the Fellows and the medals), the Tri-Agency awards, the Killam Prizes (all disciplines), the Molson Prize (for arts/humanities/social science), the Order of Ontario, and the Order of Canada. Major international prizes include the Albert Einstein World Award of Science, the Leonardo Da Vinci World Award of Arts, the Japan Prize, and the Global Energy Prize, plus many other disciplinary lifetime achievement awards.
The nomination process differs between awards, but you can generally expect to include:
- A nomination letter
- Statements about your research achievements and/or research plans
- Letters of support
While some awards allow for self-nomination, most do not. For awards that require institutional nomination, the nomination letter will come from the Vice President Research. If institutional nomination is not required, the nomination generally comes from a respected peer.
Letters of support are important elements of award nominations. Letters of support from internationally respected leaders in your field (and from outside your institution) attest to your research achievements and standing better than any other part of the nomination package. They are also able to put your achievements in context as indicators of achievement vary by field. If you are interested in pursuing honours and awards, it is important to identify individuals who you are confident will write strong letters for you. Strong referees are those who know you and your research well enough to provide not only a strong recommendation, but specific evidence to back up that recommendation.
Award nominations are different than grant applications. They require a compelling narrative about your research achievements and impact. For awards, research impact is key; awards are given to researchers whose work has made (or has the potential to make) tangible and transformative change in their field and society. Usually evaluation committees are multi-disciplinary, meaning it is essential that you write in plain language for a broad audience. Once you begin applying for awards and establish an effective narrative, you will be able to reuse content for other awards (as well as grants).
RSO is committed to supporting researchers who are interested in pursuing honours and awards and their College Research Managers in order to put forward the most competitive nomination package possible.
RSO publicizes honours and awards opportunities throughout the year. There is an Honours and Awards Calendar so you can see upcoming award deadlines. We also email Research Alerts for honours and awards closer to the deadline date. RSO staff may also contact you directly about being nominated for a particular award.
For awards that require institutional nomination, RSO collects Expressions of Interest (EOI) by an internal deadline. An EOI is typically a statement on your achievements and your research significance and impact. We also require a CV. These are evaluated by the Honours and Awards Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations to the Vice President Research. This ensures the process for selecting nominees is transparent and fair. RSO is committed to ensuring that all faculty – particularly those from unrepresented groups – have the opportunity to be nominated for awards. The Committee may recommend that nominees move forward or that they wait a year or two to strengthen their nomination. In some cases, programs have limits for the number of nominations the university may submit; in this case, the Committee will recommend the nomination(s) that should move forward.
For institutional nominations, RSO provides dedicated support to develop a competitive nomination package. The Honours and Awards Facilitator will work with you and your College Research Manager to develop a competitive application and secure the necessary internal approvals and signatures. We will provide detailed feedback and writing support on nomination statements and letters; facilitate submission of the letters of support; and, in some cases, submit the nomination to the organization. Be prepared for several rounds of feedback with RSO as it takes time to write effective nomination statements and letters for multi-disciplinary evaluation committees.
For award nominations not requiring institutional nomination, RSO may be able to support you and your College Research Manager. Contact email@example.com to talk to our Honours and Awards Facilitator.
It is useful to think about honours and awards from the beginning of your academic career. If you apply for smaller disciplinary honours and awards from the start, you can build a record of achievement that will place you in a good position to apply for major national and international honours and awards later in your career. A good place to start is with the professional organizations in your field – most have awards and honours for their members.
Award opportunities for early career researchers supported by RSO include:
- University Research Excellence Awards
- Early Researcher Award
- Royal Society of Canada College of New Scholars
- Arthur B. MacDonald Fellowship (NSERC)
- Sloan Fellowship
Visit the Honours & Award Calendar to explore the range of opportunities and keep an eye on your email for Research Alerts. Contact your College Research Manager and/or RSO's Honours and Awards Facilitator (firstname.lastname@example.org) to discuss which opportunities may be right for you and when you might be most competitive.
For more information, please contact:
Honours and Awards Facilitator