Awards and Honours: Tricks of the Trade

Mar 6, 2018
Erica Conte, Yunjo Lee, Samar Saneinejad and Arthur Slutsky, St. Michael's Hospital

Awards are a great way to honour faculty, staff and students, support their growth and contribute to the reputation of an institution. Over the past four years, the VP Research Office at St. Michael’s Hospital has made it a priority to help our faculty win awards. We have taken a proactive approach to supporting award nominations, dedicating time and resources to this important process. This article provides an overview of our Grants and Awards team’s process, and provides some tips for improving award nominations.

How Do We Find Award Opportunities?

The first step is to find awards with criteria that are aligned with faculty members’ qualifications, contributions and impact within their field. Our awards team starts by scouting available databases to determine upcoming award deadlines. These include:

  1. Resources from the University Awards & Honours Office (contact Monica Caverson at
  2. The University of Toronto Research Funding Database
  3. Pivot, and various list serves such as the Canadian Association of Research Administrators and federal granting agencies.

We also encourage our scientists to bring forward any potential nominations for which they feel they (or their colleagues) are a good match. These community-sourced awards are often important for early and mid-career investigators where the awards may be less well-known, and advertisement is targeted through research field-specific channels.

How Do We Determine Who Is The Best Candidate?

Having an inventory of faculty with easy access to up-to-date CVs is critical when identifying potential nominees. Our office makes it a point to know our faculty – their career stage, research focus, contributions, impact and leadership experience. We take time to meet with all new recruits to understand their areas of research. We discuss the list of upcoming awards at our weekly meetings to identify any potential competitive nominees. If there are multiple candidates identified or further insight is required, these awards are brought forward to the Research Leadership Committee to review and make final recommendations. To determine if the chosen nominee is competitive, we often consult the list of previous awardees. Ultimately, if our office has determined that one of our scientists is a good candidate for an award, we then consult the nominee directly (when possible) to determine 1) if they agree that their qualifications match the description of the award, and 2) if they would be willing to help us compile the necessary information to complete the nomination package.

Divide and Conquer: Roles and Responsibilities

If the award clearly states that the nomination must remain strictly confidential and the nominee cannot be aware of the nomination, then our office would work with someone identified as the primary nominator to complete the nomination package. However, for most award nominations we will work directly with the nominee to assemble the required material.

Curriculum Vitae: We ask the nominee for an updated CV in the format required for the award nomination.

Letters of Support/Reference: We consult with the nominee to determine who in their field is most appropriate to provide strong letters of support. We pay close attention to conflict of interest guidelines or specific requirements regarding the type of referees (e.g. international experts). Our office will then send official requests for letters, including guidelines regarding format, the nominee’s CV, supporting documentation and the deadline when letters need to be received. Some referees request a review of their letter, which we are happy to provide.

Scientific Material: The nominee is requested to draft the scientific material for the nomination. Our office will then review/edit this material to increase its clarity and alignment with the award, and ensure all criteria are strongly supported.

Submission of the Nomination Package: We ensure that all components of the nomination are complete (check lists are helpful). Our office either submits the nomination package on behalf of the primary nominator before the deadline, or prepares the final package for the primary nominator to submit directly.

It’s a Team Effort: Working with the University

We regularly update the University with our award nominations to ensure that our efforts are not duplicated. There are cases where the nomination must be submitted by the University (or a Faculty or Department within the University) and for these, we work closely with the appropriate groups at the University to put together the nomination package.

If at First You Don’t Succeed…

If an award nomination is not successful, we contact the organization for feedback. Some organizations do not provide any feedback while others are willing to provide some informal feedback, which can be helpful when determining whether to resubmit the nomination the following year. Many award nominations are very competitive, with many great candidates being put forward each year. Often it is necessary to try a few times, before the nomination is successful.

Our Recipe for Success

  1. Start Early: Start the nomination process about three months before the deadline to ensure that you have sufficient time to find appropriate support (nominators, strong and supportive referees, etc.) and provide a thorough review of the application material.
  2. Strong Letters Hold the Key: You will want letters to be specific to the nominee and their contributions with specific details and examples regarding their impact and qualifications for the award. Letters should be personalized, indicating how the referee knows the nominee and their opinion as to their merit for this award. Everyone has very busy schedules, so we aim to give referees at least six weeks to provide a letter.
  3. Set Internal Deadlines: Setting internal deadlines is important to ensure there is time to review nominee material and letters. Many factors can prevent someone from meeting a deadline, so having a sufficiently early internal deadline can often be a saving grace.
  4. Thank your Nominators and Referees: These individuals have taken time out of their busy schedules to contribute to the nomination package. They will want to know the result of their efforts (whether the nomination is successful or not). Make sure you recognize their contributions.
  5. Celebrate Success: We are very proud when our scientists win awards. Successful awards should be celebrated both within and outside of your institution. So engage your Public Relations department (the Department of Medicine can get in touch with Brianne Tulk at, write stories and get the word out!