October 2011

Awards in biochemistry

Award-selection committees must avoid conflict-of-interest issues – such as voting on their own nominees. It is also important that they include a diverse group of members to address potential unconscious biases to which all of us can fall victim. The pool of female nominees for an award is usually quite small; the pool of minority scientists is even smaller.

Given that the FASEB Excellence in Science Award, which is expressly dedicated to honoring women scientists, receives as many as 50 nominations a year, one might have expected that some of those 50 women also would be nominated for other, gender-independent awards.

Unfortunately, many of us still think of women as nurturers and mentors rather than discoverers and thought leaders. The ASBMB is trying to correct this. With funding from the National Science Foundation, The Association for Women in Science is collaborating with seven U.S. science societies (including the ASBMB) and the RAISE Project (3) to raise the status of professional women through better recognition of their achievements. The ASBMB awards committee is actively soliciting nominations to diversify our nominee pool. You can help us by submitting nominations of talented folks who may not yet have been recognized.

What else can be done? Jim Wells of the University of California, San Francisco, suggests that we streamline the nomination process to make it easier for all of us to submit nominations. He also suggests that the ASBMB consider allowing self-nominations. If certain individuals write their own nominations anyway, why shouldn’t everyone have this opportunity? Opening the nomination process has the potential to level the playing field, as long as those who have been under-represented take the initiative to promote themselves. Please let me know what you think of these suggestions, as the ASBMB council will be discussing them during its December meeting. And thank you to those of you who nominate candidates for recognition by the ASBMB.


1. P. Leboy (2008) The Scientist 22, 67
2. Nature 469, 472
3. www.raiseproject.org

Suzanne PfefferASBMB President Suzanne Pfeffer (pfeffer@stanford.edu) is a biochemistry professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine.


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Bob, We welcome nominations from all arenas and I hope that with self nominations, we will receive more from industrial scientists as well. Vijay, we will definitely simplify the process. Thank you both for writing. --Suzanne Pfeffer


Suzanne: Interesting commentary. Of course the one group that is not merely under-represented, but essentially excluded from awards is industrial scientists. Bob Copeland


I agree with Suzanne Pfeffer, ASBMB President, that awards should be made to deserving individuals who are not previous recipient of awards, thus recognition is brought to diverse group of scientists. Additionally, I suggest the number of supporting letters for the nomination may be reduced to five to six letters. Vijay Kalra,Ph.D. Professor of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology USC Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles,CA



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