The deadline for submitting nominations for the ESA’s various awards is Dec. 15. One of the highest-profile awards is the Mercer Award, given annually to the best ecology paper by a young author (lead author <41 at time of publication) in the last two years (so, 2014-15 this time around). The paper can come from any journal, and the lead author need not be an ESA member or US citizen. (UPDATE: George Mercer was a young ecologist killed in WW II. The age criterion for eligibility reflects the history of the award–which goes back to 1948–as a way of remembering a young ecologist whose career was cut short by war.)
Hopefully you’re planning to submit nominations! It’s fun to do. It’s a great way to honor deserving colleagues. It feels great if the person you nominate wins. And in the case of the Mercer Award, you’re shaping the direction of the field in a small way by giving honor and publicity to the sort of work you’d like to see more of.
To help you out, in this post I’ll do two things. First, I’ll toss out some suggestions for papers that should be in the conversation for the Mercer Award. This should be a fun conversation to have–what’s the very best ecology published in the last two years? Second, I’ll address various common excuses for not submitting award nominations.
Mercer Award candidates
Just off the top of my head, here are some papers that I think ought to be in the conversation for the Mercer Award this year. Far from an exhaustive list–suggest your own candidates in the comments! I’m planning to submit a nomination this year, and I’m looking forward to hearing about some great papers I might otherwise have overlooked.
- Hatton et al. 2015 Science. The predator-prey power law: biomass scaling across terrestrial and aquatic biomes. If we were handicapping the Mercer Award, I’d probably call this paper the favorite. Not saying it necessarily should win–that’s obviously a judgment call on which there’s scope for reasonable disagreement. And it’s not really a hypothesis-testing paper (the authors are unsure of the ultimate explanation for some of the patterns they identify), which would make it an atypical winner. But the various patterns they discover are precise and general, interestingly interconnected, and not necessarily just a consequence of stuff we already know. It’s a rich paper.
- Kraft et al. 2015 PNAS. Plant functional traits and the multidimensional nature of species coexistence. As I said in an old post: Thank God somebody is finally bringing modern coexistence theory into “trait-based” ecology (well, they’re not the first; Angert et al. 2009 is great too). Unsurprisingly, the results undermine popular attempts to use trait patterns to infer coexistence mechanisms. And the fact that the authors had to run a massive competition experiment in addition to compiling trait data is in my view a feature, not a bug. Nobody said ecology was easy. And attempts to make it easy (e.g., by trying to infer process from pattern) have a pretty much unbroken track record of failure.
- Gremer and Venable 2014 Ecology Letters. Bet hedging in desert winter annual plants: optimal germination strategies in a variable environment. As I said in an old post: I saw Jennifer Gremer talk about this work at the ESA meeting, it was a great talk. It’s a great paper too. Tightly links a biological model and long-term data to not only show that 12 species of desert annuals bet hedge, but that they do so near-optimally (!) Bet hedging is one of those things on which there’s lots of suggestive data but very few definitive examples. Especially not field examples. I’d add now that this seems to me to be a good example of the sort of thing that often wins the Mercer Award. It’s about big general ideas (bet hedging, optimality), but also really nails what’s going on in a specific system. It tightly links a theoretical model to data. And it test a hypothesis.
Looking forward to your comments: What other papers should be in the running for the Mercer Award this year?
Excuses for not submitting ESA award nominations
I’m too busy.
No you’re not. Ok, maybe you are if you have a bunch of deadlines to meet between now and Dec. 15 (which I’m sure many of you do, it being end of term and all). But otherwise, you are almost certainly not too busy to take an hour or two to write a nomination letter (which is all that’s required for the Mercer and most other ESA awards). Put it this way: every successful grad student, postdoc, and faculty member I know voluntarily does stuff in their professional life besides the “essentials” of doing their own research, writing papers, writing grants, and teaching classes (and no, that’s not because they work 80 hours/week). And they’re successful because they operate that way, not despite operating that way. Doing nothing but keeping your head down and focusing narrowly on your own stuff all the time is not a recipe for success. To put it yet another way: are you implying that only people with lots of spare time on their hands submit award nominations?
I’m just a grad student/postdoc/assistant professor/non-famous ecologist. A nomination from me wouldn’t be taken seriously.
Oh yes it would be! I’ve nominated a Mercer Award winner–early in my postdoc. Brian’s nominated a winner as well–years ago, when he was not yet senior. The ESA’s award committees take every nomination seriously, no matter who it’s from.
I’ve never done this before, I don’t know how to write a good letter.
There’s a first time for everything! And how do you expect to get better if you don’t try? Plus, what makes you so sure your first attempt would be bad? My letter nominating the Mercer Award winner was the first such letter I’d ever written. Don’t worry, there is no secret formula for a good nomination letter that’s only known to senior ecologists. Just look at the award criteria and address them in your nomination letter.
There will be a bazillion nominations, they don’t need one more from me.
While I don’t know for sure how many nominees there typically are for most ESA awards, it’s not bazillions. I bet it’s often very few. Speaking from experience, most awards committees are desperate for more nominees than they typically get, and are dismayed that many worthy candidates don’t get nominated.
There will be a bazillion nominations, my candidate would have no shot at winning.
See above. There almost certainly won’t be that many nominees, so your nominee almost surely will have a much better shot than you’d think.
I can’t think of any good candidates.
Sure you can. For instance, say you’re trying to think of nominees for the Mercer award. There are lots of things you can do to come up with ideas, none of which needs to take much time. Think about recent papers you read that you really liked. Chat about it with your labmates (picking a paper to nominate for the Mercer award would be a great lab meeting exercise!) Read the rest of this post and the comments for some suggestions. Skim the list of past Mercer Award winners and my post on what recent Mercer Award winners have in common to help shape your “search image” for what a Mercer Award winner looks like.
I’ve already submitted nominations for other awards, there’s a limit to how many I can do.
Well done, carry on.🙂
I already do lots of other things with my professional time that I don’t have to do.
Well done, carry on.🙂
I’m just not that into
you nominating people for awards.
Ok, fair enough.