8 Strategies to Win an Industry Award

8 Strategies to Win an Industry Award

Award winners share their strategies for submitting and winning industry recognition.
Winning an award—particularly one with international appeal—is validating. Recognition increases visibility, creates employment and promotion opportunities, leads to speaking engagements, and may come with grant money that supports research.

“With that prestige and honor, now you are a recognized opinion leader,” said Lori Setton, a distinguished professor of biomedical engineering and department chair at Washington University. “That definitely can amplify your voice in important decisions within your institution—and within the community.”

Setton and other ASME award winners share strategies for submitting a winning award application.

1. Know what’s out there

To find out which awards are worth your submission time, participate in committees with organize conferences, look through trade journals, and pay attention to organizations and nonprofits that recognize engineering contributions, advised Zhenpeng Qin, an associate professor in the mechanical engineering and bioengineering departments at The University of Texas at Dallas.

At the same time, become engaged with—and well known in—at least one scholarly and professional community, initially through service. That allows for the opportunity to see notable career trajectories, Setton added.

“Better than going to a different meeting every year, it’s wise to become engaged sufficiently in a community so that you can watch what is valued,” she said.

2. Speak up

If you see something—in this case, an award you’d like to pursue—say something.

“If you think you're eligible for an award, go to your department chair or employer and ask, ‘Do you know anyone out there who would be prepared to nominate me for this?’” Setton said.

3. Gather supportive documents

When asking for letters of recommendation, choose people who will offer a thoughtful, authoritative, and independent voice, explained Tim Colonius, a mechanical engineering professor at the California Institute of Technology.

And cover your bases, added Karen A. Thole, a distinguished professor of mechanical engineering at Pennsylvania State University.

Ask multiple people for letters, then pick the top three—the ones that are the most “clear and crisp”—to submit with your application.

Be sure to give letter writers plenty of time. For an award submission due in May, for example, begin making requests in January. The lead time not only eases the burden on those you’re asking, but in an academic setting in particular, explained Thole, “everyone knows who the excellent letter writers are and you want to get to them before anyone else does.”

A good time to gather documentation that will help bolster those letters is during regular progress reports or evaluations.

“A lot of achievements will already be on file,” Setton said.

4. Be realistic

Colonius urged applicants to make sure the award being sought is a good fit. Read announcements carefully, look at past recipients and their qualifications, and make sure your references understand the significance of the award.

Not doing so slows down the selection process, he continued, which “is also time-consuming for the people who have to wade through lots of applications, so everybody benefits if people do their homework.”

5. Avoid generalization

Think very carefully about why you deserve a particular award.

“It needs to be, ‘I’ve done this specific big thing and this is how it has changed the world,’” Thole said.

If you’re too general, there may be ramifications when going after a subsequent award because those reviewing the next application will sense repetition.

“You can’t double-count the same activity for a single award,” she explained.

6. Nominate others

Thole often suggests people in their early careers to nominate others for awards “because it makes people aware of who you are and what you’re doing—and whether you’re worthy of a nomination too.”

Doing so also creates recognition among people on award committees.

“My name is on their lips, so to speak,” Colonius said. “They see that I'm contributing to the community, and they might want to help me because they're interested in helping the community.”

7. Don’t procrastinate

Applications are time-intensive and generally take much longer than expected, so start preparing early—and plan to be done early.

“Cut-off dates are real,” Thole said, “so don’t wait until the last minute because something surely will go wrong.”

Speaking from experience, Thole recently found out that a nomination she put forward hadn’t even been considered because of a website malfunction. The issue, which eventually got resolved, underscores why staying on top of deadlines is critical.

8. Stay vigilant

If at first you don’t succeed…

“Be persistent,” Qin said. “If the first time doesn’t work and this is something that means a lot to you, and can help with your career, then try again.”

Robin L. Flanagan is an independent writer in Rochester, N.Y.

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