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ACS News

October 5, 2009
Volume 87, Number 40
p. 47

ACS National Awards: Stirring The Pot

Eric Bigham, Chair, Board Committee on Grants & Awards
Marinda Wu, Chair, Awards Review Committee; Member, G&A

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The American Chemical Society awards program is one of the means by which the society meets its obligation "to encourage ... the advancement of chemistry in all its branches, the promotion of research in chemical science and industry, [and] the improvement of the qualifications and usefulness of chemists." The national awards honor the accomplishments in and service to chemistry. These awards bring high-level recognition to important chemical research occurring in the U.S. and around the globe. With the support of industry, academia, private endowments, and ACS divisions and committees, the ACS national awards program now administers 64 national awards. Information on all ACS awards can be found on the awards website at

In 2008, the national awards program was reviewed by the ACS Program Review Advisory Group (PRAG), and that group issued several recommendations for the improvement of this important program. PRAG recommended that the ACS Board Committee on Grants & Awards (G&A) assess the net impact of the awards, develop a cost-effective means of increasing award sponsor recognition, assess the relevance of current awards, review criteria for award renewals and terminations, establish a clear process for terminating an award, develop metrics for award sponsorship, and increase public awareness of the award recipients' contributions.

Problems that arose with individual awards or the selection process were handled in a piecemeal manner, and no comprehensive review process was ever instituted. In response to growing concerns about the effectiveness and sustainability of the national awards program and to address the PRAG recommendations, G&A created an Awards Review Committee (ARC) in 2008 to review all ACS national awards and appointed Marinda Wu from G&A as chair. ARC was designed to be similar to PRAG and will review approximately one-fifth of the national awards each year. Like PRAG, ARC is developing a rigorous review process as it does its work.

Awards are reviewed to ensure that the ACS national awards program continues to meet the objectives set by the society, specifically to recognize and reward the distinguished contributions of the recipients, to encourage others to achieve excellence in their professional activities, and to demonstrate the expertise of the society in performing this function.

All national awards will undergo an initial review by ARC. Factors considered include the number of nominations for the past 10 years for each award, chemistry community support, financial support, and the availability of individuals willing to serve on canvassing and selection committees. Awards that need further consideration because of any needs identified by ARC undergo a thorough secondary review.

Secondary reviews of an award include ratings pertaining to the award, the nomination process, nominees, and finances. For the award, ARC considers prestige, stature and visibility; community support for the award; alignment with strategic goals of the society; clarity of the founding documents; and award distinctiveness and overlap with other awards. For the nomination process, ARC considers the number of nominees per award cycle, size of the eligible community, availability of individuals willing to serve on the canvassing and selection committee, and involvement of past recipients in the nomination process. When considering nominees, ARC looks at the caliber of past nominees and the national stature of past award recipients. With regard to finances, ARC studies the level and sources of financial support for each award.

ARC recommendations following a secondary review for an award include retaining the award "as is," redefining the award to keep it current, terminating an award, or consolidating an award with another, overlapping award. Follow-up letters from ARC to the pertinent divisions or committees will seek suggestions to improve the success and visibility of the award along with ARC recommendations after a secondary review.

Critically reviewing an award sometimes causes consternation among key stakeholders, but the review also raises awareness and interest in the award and the process at the same time. A division chair, as a result of serving on ARC, pledged to submit a nominee for at least one award by the Nov. 1 deadline and encouraged his division members to do likewise. We hope more society members will nominate deserving individuals for ACS awards.

The awards program is and has to be a society-wide effort. G&A is seeking input from all on how to improve the awards process and to increase the visibility of all national ACS awards, recipients, and sponsors. On Aug. 18, at the ACS national meeting in Washington, D.C, G&A met with division chairs or their representatives and ARC members. A productive discussion resulted in sharing good ideas and comments on how to further improve the ACS national awards program.

Please e-mail any further suggestions or comments on ACS national awards to or

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

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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