Why Should Engineers Give Themselves Awards?

I recently attended a couple of IEEE award ceremonies and it got me to thinking about awards in our profession. A lot of effort and money is spent in sustaining an awards program. Why do we do it?

I’ve heard it said that awards are meant as an incentive to engineers to pursue more original and imaginative work, but it strikes me as unlikely that anyone in his or her daily work would be influenced by the possibility of winning such an award. However, in a more general and diffuse way, the acknowledgment and rewarding of achievements does contribute in an important way to our sense of professionalism and to preserving engineering history.

As I watched awards being passed out, I was prepared to be bored, but instead I was pleasantly surprised to feel proud of the achievements being extolled from the dais. Though the awards went to individuals, I thought: We did this, we engineers. These are things we accomplished together. Every great discovery or invention comes from an entangled network of contributions to which we all contribute.

How can we maximize the value of awards? Having been part of the IEEE’s awards process in past years, I remember wanting the awards to be prestigious and to be well publicized. It is an opportunity for engagement with the public, and raising public respect for engineers was something we wanted to do. So public relations people would craft press releases that would be sent out to major newspapers and publications—and then, inevitably, ignored. Unless it’s a Nobel Prize or an Oscar,…[Read more]