Awards for research excellence: what are they all about?

Just a quick and somewhat self-congratulatory post today…

Last night the winners of the 2013 UTS Research Excellence Awards were announced.

I was a finalist in the Researcher Development category, and got ‘Highly Commended’, which essentially means runner up. This blog contributed to the case made by my nominators, and in particular evidence of engagement through comments that readers have made. So keep them coming! It was humbling and affirming to have work supporting UTS (and other) research students recognised and appreciated so publicly. I also got to thank the people who’ve supported me since I arrived at UTS (including Nicky Solomon, Sandy Schuck, Lesley Farrell, the late Alison Lee). It made me think perhaps I / we don’t make our appreciation for colleagueship as explicit as we might at times.

It struck me that these kinds of events and awards schemes have tremendous value in academic life. Some of the nominees and winners were highly visible researchers doing incredibly sexy kinds of research in topics. But awards nights also give an opportunity to recognise some less visible and perhaps immediately appealing kinds of work.

It was great to see this being done at UTS, and also to see the university giving public acknowledgement, recognition, reward and thanks for work that is crucial, but not necessarily marked by million dollar grants and super-cited publications. The fact that the Research Support award go to Sybille Frank, from the Equity and Diversity Unit, reflects UTS’ strong commitment to equity in research, supported by our DVC, Attila Brungs. That there is an award focused on partnership reflects the emphasis UTS places on working with industry, communities and other stakeholders. Our Vice Chancellor explained how the award for teaching and research integration reflects UTS’ approach to developing excellence: nurturing both together, rather than focusing on bringing in academic all-stars and their $millions in grants and publications and leaving the rest of us to get on with teaching. The winner of that award, Peter Aubusson, works in science teacher education. I’m proud that UTS not only encourages and values research-teaching links, but that it is ready to make such serious and public affirmations of the contribution universities make to countless children in schools by educating generations of teachers.

The winner of the Chancellor’s Medal for Research Excellence, Matt Wand, got to the podium to accept his award and confessed that his statistics based work (which still involves notepads full of mathematical equations), doesn’t have the most self-evident public appeal or glamour. But cures for cancer (and heaps of other quite useful things) build on that kind of scholarship. Like most award winners, Matt spent more time thanking others than he did celebrating himself, in particular naming a number of mentors that have helped him get where he is today, chief among whom was a colleague at UTS.

I would also note that UTS invited its 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) winner Brett Hagelstein to give his (short!) presentation to esteemed audience. Once again, showing its commitment to and respect for research students and the contribution they make to knowledge, to society, and to UTS’s profile in Australia and beyond.

So, what can we learn here? Well, most universities probably have some kind of awards evening. It’s interesting to see what kinds of work get valued, and how cases are made to persuade people of that value. To see questions of (not just economic) impact, partnership, equity, and teaching centrally highlighted in UTS’ vision for research excellence was, for me, awesome.



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