At the recent ESC/ESS JAM in Saskatoon, not only were we treated to some great science and camaraderie, but the beloved institution of the President’s Prize sessions for student talks and posters provided some of the most stimulating and exciting times. This was my first year not being in the competition, and I would like to offer my views on the subject.
1) The President’s Prize encourages excellence: Students are definitely motivated to deliver polished and professional presentations in the hopes that their efforts will be recognized publicly. This reaches further than the conference, to encourage students to vet their talks and posters within their laboratories and departments in formal and informal settings in order to make the best presentation possible. This can only be a good thing.
2) The recognition is important: this prize, although modest financially, has amazing value as something to put on one’s CV. This enhances the career prospects of the winners and also the recognition that conference travel for students is worth funding within departments. Again, the value of this prize reaches much further than the conference, as students returning with the tangible benefits of a prize winning talk encourages others to make it a priority to attend and give an excellent talk next year.
The President’s Prize and the more recent innovation of the Graduate Student Showcase are thus valuable to the society as a whole. By encouraging and recognizing the efforts of students who attend our conferences to present well-polished research results, we promote excellence in scientific communication. We can all learn from the skill and innovation of these students!
With all of this in mind, I would like to make some recommendations:
1) For every conference, pre-publish the scoring rubric to be used by the judges. This will ensure that students entering a talk or poster know what points they have to hit to make their talk a candidate for the prize. These rubrics should not penalize creativity on the part of the students or discretion on the part of the judges, but should ensure that there is a baseline for what is expected.
2) At every conference, formally recognize runners-up in every session: It costs nothing but a bit of extra time during award presentation, but the chance to bestow recognition on a few more students should not go to waste. Many sessions have many excellent talks, and to send an excellent presenter home with nothing does no one any good. It has been a bit hit and miss in recent years at ESC meetings with regards to runners-up, and I think it should be the case that every conference includes this important recognition.
3) Send all competitors home with the judging sheets. This is a bit more onerous on the part of the judges, but the judges can definitely jot down some notes on their scoring sheet and show the tally for how well the talk lived up to the rubric. This is important to show that the criteria used to score the talks informed the decision. More importantly, it allows students to see how well their talk met the judges’ expectations, and to improve their presentations for the next year. This has been done at a couple of ESC meetings over the last few years and as far as I know, students found the feedback they got very valuable and were able to use it to improve their science communication skills.
Thanks to Mile Zhang for photos of the poster competitors, and to Catherine Scott for helpful suggestions. Congratulations to all this year’s winners, runners-up, and competitors!