By Hope Gerde, Jill Pentimonti, & Sonia Cabell
You may think that close only counts in a game of horseshoes or for slow dancing. However, engaging in the process of award nomination can benefit your career even if you do not win the prize. Are you perseverating over whether applying for an award is worth the time investment? The answer is YES, even if you do not receive the award!
First of all, you are guaranteed to lose 100% of the opportunities you do not take. Said differently, if you do not apply, you absolutely, positively will not win. Thus, the first step to winning an award is applying for the award. Moreover, persistence is paramount and these carefully prepared award nomination documents including research narratives and letters of recommendation can be used as drafts to work from for future, revised submissions of the same or another award. In many cases, a second or third submission of a revised award nomination results in a win. Not only do revised submissions include your more recent work, your research statement will improve each time you revise.
The preparation of award materials will help you and your nominators to carefully scrutinize your work which can and will move it forward in interesting ways.
So if you were debating on whether to apply for an award, debate no longer! It is well worth the effort. There is more to gain than to lose, so go ahead—award yourself!
By Dr. Hope Gerde
National awards are an important component of a strong research portfolio. Receiving a national award provides prestigious recognition for your program of research and contributes to evaluation metrics such as the Web of Science, which may be valuable for reappointment, tenure, and promotion at your university. University-level awards contribute meaningfully to your CV as well; winning a university-level award may strengthen your nomination for a national award. Of course, no one is just going to give you an award, so take action to award yourself.
Some researchers may think, “If I do great work, someone will notice and award that work.” While a few researchers may be spontaneously bestowed an award, the best course of action is to take ownership over award nominations. Much like the intentionality and ingenuity you invest into your award-deserving program of research, what is likely to result in an award is taking the initiative to self-nominate, that is, 1) identify awards for which you are eligible and align with your research, and 2) actively identify and invite nomination/support letter writers.
Do not undervalue the self-nomination! No one knows your research better than you do, so why would you not make an excellent nominator of your work? You know why your work is valuable. You know who your work impacts. This is your career, so self-nominate away!
Now that you have decided to apply for an award, you must identify awards for which you and your work are eligible. Universities, professional organizations (e.g., SRCD, AERA), community agencies and foundations often provide a range of awards for researchers and educators. Their websites will provide detailed application Awards applications can be intensive with multiple components to complete, so it is important to ensure you meet the eligibility. The term “early career” varies widely and may include doctoral students, junior faculty, or those who have had a PhD for certain number of years. At times, it can include individuals who have worked at a particular institution for fewer than a given number of years no matter their rank. Check eligibility criteria carefully. Find awards that fits your content, methodology, approaches to working with communities or participants, etc. Your research is impressive; do not change it to align with an award! In the nomination letter, nominees must clarify how the work is in excellent alignment with the award. Just as you would in a grant proposal, don’t make them guess.
Now that you have selected the award for which you will apply, you will need a nomination letter.
Criteria for nominators may exist. For example, nominations may need to be from a board member of a particular professional organization or a previous winner of the award. Again, it is important to confirm this eligibility. Senior, recognized, researchers in your field, or researchers with a history of serving a specific professional organization or publishing in the awarding journal are excellent choices, particularly if they know your work well. Select letter writers who know you and your work. Provide letter writers with your CV and a brief synopsis of the specific parts of your work you would like them to include in their letter. Be sure to thank them to recognize the time they invested in your letter. A handwritten thank you card is often unexpected but a nice touch!
Use the resources available at your university or institution to support your award nomination packages. As awards become a more visible metric of superior scholarship, some departments or universities have invested resources in establishing awards committees or offices. Connecting with these folks can provide access to awards, eligibility criteria, letter writers, strategies for inviting letter writers, and more.
Persistence is the key to nearly all success in the academic career, including awards, so keep revising and resubmitting until you win or are no longer eligible. Apply to as many awards as possible but balance the time commitment; awards packages can be intensive and extensive to prepare. Invite a colleague to review your awards package prior to submission to enhance the quality.
We wish everyone well as they apply for awards and nominate their peers or mentees.
In February 2019, members of the POWER Steering Committee met with Sharon Vaugh, Ph.D. We had a thoughtful conversation about research, writing, and how to say “no” sometimes.
What is your advice for developing as a writer?
What are your tips for successful grant writing?
How do you envision a focused program of research?
How do you recommend young researchers find a more senior mentor?
Can you talk about work-life balance and how you’ve thought about that across your career?
How do you assess what opportunities to “yes” versus “no” to?
Many thanks to Sharon for sharing her advice and time with us; we are especially grateful for her honesty about managing anxieties and decision-making.
In February 2019, members of the POWER Steering Committee spoke with Stephanie Al Otaiba
Ph.D. We had an insightful conversation about making an impact as education researcher and
advice for women.
POWER: What is the best advice you have received during your career?
POWER: How do you make decisions about how to spend your time?
POWER: What do you think is particularly important for early- and mid-career women to know?
POWER: What advice do you have for faculty who are developing mentoring relationships as either the mentor or the mentee?
POWER: Is there anything that you wish you had done differently in your career? What would you do differently?
We are grateful that Stephanie spent her time and energy helping us think strategically about how to make an impact that fits our values.
In January 2019, the POWER Steering Committee met with Barbara Wasik, Ph.D. during a
meeting in Washington D.C. We had a lively conversation about mentoring, advice for education
research, and work-life balance.
POWER: Can you describe the mentoring you received during your career and how your mentors
● Early in my career, I was mentored and really protected by two senior women, who I
worked with. They supported me and provided me with advice about work load, salary
and taught me how to navigate our organization. These two women were key. They
always said “Make yourself marketable to the larger professional field not just your
immediate university community.” For example, they said your standards for your
academic performance should be based more on what the larger market dictates rather
than your particular institution at the time.
● They helped me understand when I should advocate for myself as a junior researcher.
These were issues ranged from having difficult conversation with senior researchers
about authorship decisions to asking for an office that was more than a tiny closet. It took
me weeks to work up the courage to have one of these conversations, but it was the right
thing to do. On the other hand, there were some tasks that they helped me understand
would make me a better researcher—like spending time in schools collecting data and
observing in classrooms. This was valuable advice that I still follow today.
POWER: What advice to you have on how to be a good mentor to female education researchers?
● First, you have to know the criteria on which they are being evaluated. Then, get to know
how they allocate their time. Find out what they enjoy and what makes them anxious.
You might find that more junior people spend more time doing things that don’t make
them anxious but these activities may not are not the best use of their time or in their best
interest as they work towards tenure and promotion. Also, I would suggest that they
examine the types of service that they are involved in and determine the cost/benefits of
the service. If it is very time consuming or not the best use of their time, I would suggest
that they look for other opportunities.
● An important area for helping mentees is with networking, such as helping them learn to
network at conferences and contacting people who do similar research as they do in order
to make professional connections. Sometimes this includes peer mentoring or writing
● As a mentor, also know you can only do so much. This profession requires a lot of self-
motivation and self-regulation, so the mentees have to do their part.
POWER: What advice do you have for negotiating through research career ladders?
● Regarding promotion and tenure, I would recommend that you get advice from not only
your department/college but also the university level on matters of tenure.
● I think my approach has been to speak openly about issues that arise in the professional
setting. If there are policies that you may object to or decisions that you may not agree
with, seek out more senior people for advice and try always to be fair and try and see the
other side’s perspective. My instinct has always been to talk about things when
something uncomfortable happened.
POWER: What advice do you have for someone considering promotion or tenure?
● As you approach promotion and tenure, there can be a lot of noise and uncertainty around
what criteria your institution values. I would suggest you pay attention to the college and
university-based guidelines and seek advice from colleagues who have recently gone
through the tenure and promotion process at your university. Another key aspect is to
demonstrate that you have developed an independent research trajectory.
● If your institution requires letter writers you do not collaborate with, start by searching
for researchers who have cited your work. Your letter writers need to be familiar with
your work in order to write a strong letter of support.
What advice do you have on grant writing?
● I think the most important thing is to find colleagues with similar interests with whom
you can write grants. One person writing a grant is a lot to do independently. It is helpful
to have a small group of colleagues (inside or outside your organization) who you can
effectively collaborate and who you trust.
● I try to always put in two grants a year because most of the time, they don’t get funded on
the first submission. It is a balancing act of making sure you don’t put in so many grants
that you don’t do anything well. Another important thing is to remember you don’t have
to be a Principal Investigator (PI) on everything; being a co-investigator also covers
allows you to play an important role in a grant funded project while you are PI on other
● It’s also important to consider funding for graduate students when writing your budget.
● There are some funding mechanisms I would not do again, such as grants that require
matching funds. It was a lot of work to find additional foundation funding for those sorts
How did you approach the balancing act of being a researcher and having a family or other
● In the beginning, I was really focused on doing a good job with my research, but I also
had two young kids. I was able to create a schedule during those years as a research
scientist where I could put my children first (attend my children’s events at school, be
home after school, etc.) and that was the right choice for my family and me. You know,
you are going to remember memories about your children more than that journal article.
● You have to decide how you will carve out your time for work versus your family or
other life priorities. Some institutions are better than others in supporting work-life
Many thanks to Barbara for sharing her time with this group and for her commitment to
mentoring many women in education research.
Dr. Sara Hart was award the 2017-2018 Developing Scholar Award at Florida State University. Read more here: http://news.fsu.edu/news/university-news/2018/05/03/biological-science-professor-wins-fsus-2018-distinguished-teacher-award/
Dr. Jill Pentimonti has been promoted to "Principal Researcher" at AIR. Go Jill!!
Dr. Hope Gerde has been in the news (hear her on NPR!) for a recent paper based on her IES grant to improve young students' writing skills. Details here
Brook Sawyer was awarded Lehigh University's Frank Hook Assistant Professorship. This award is granted to junior faculty members who demonstrate extraordinary dedication to teaching.
Dr. Mindy Bridges is just starting a new NIH grant looking at reading comprehension in sixth graders.
Dr. Jill Pentimonti is starting a large AIR-funded grant to study language based intervention linked with progress monitoring in home visiting programs in Pennsylvania.
Dr. Tricia Zucker is starting a pilot project testing a small-group reading intervention in Spanish.
Dr. Jaclyn Dynia is working on a project with Cleveland Public Libraries to train all staff on child development.