Science Policy & Funding Opinion

Incentivizing Equity and Diversity in AGU Honors Nominations

These five common myths persist about nominating your colleagues. AGU can pursue several methods of ushering in change more quickly.

By Jennifer B. Glass and Kim M. Cobb

AGU has extended its deadline to 15 April for submission of nominations for 2019 AGU medals, awards, and prizes. This means there is still a full month to organize nominations!

Data show that white women, Asian women, and underrepresented minorities have not made sizeable gains in AGU Honors recognition. Outside of Macelwane Medals, there have been only 17 AGU medals awarded to women in AGU’s history, with only 4 awarded since the last census in 2012 [O’Connell, 2013], and almost all were awarded to white women.

Disappointingly, AGU medals, awards, and prize nominations for women were lower in 2018 than in previous years, with only one woman medalist among the 16 awarded. In response to these dismal statistics, AGU leadership urged members to “expand the pool of nominations.”

We believe that demystifying the honors nomination process, encouraging collaborative nominations [Jaynes et al., 2019], and incentivizing nominations of members of underrepresented groups are key steps toward achieving gender, racial, and ethnic equity in AGU Honors.

Below we refute five common myths about the AGU Honors process that we have learned through our sustained efforts to nominate women in recent years: 

  • Myth 1: Only senior scientists can nominate their colleagues. While nominators and letter writers are often AGU Fellows or the like, anyone can assist with organizing a package. Neither of us is an AGU Fellow or medalist, but we have together coordinated over a dozen packages in the past several years.
  • Myth 2: Successful nominees must have h-indices through the roof. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no hard or soft h-index requirement for AGU Honors recipients; h-indices vary by subdiscipline and research style (large collaborations versus independent researcher). There is also evidence that h-indices are biased against women [Symonds et al., 2006]. Other limitations of the h-index are discussed in the 2014 AGU Fellows Program Review Task Force Report.
  • Myth 3: The more famous the letter writers are, the better. It is far more effective to have a diverse set of letter writers who can speak with specificity and authority about the nominee’s impact and contributions than it is to have short, vague letters from big shots. And although it is often important to have at least one senior letter writer in a package, that person need not be the lead nominator.
  • Myth 4: Nominations must be organized months in advance. We get it; we’re all busy. But it doesn’t take more than a few dedicated hours to write a substantive, elegant letter for a cherished colleague. Although it helps to have at least a month of lead time in requesting letters, don’t let that stop you from trying to pull a package together. At the very worst, you will have laid the groundwork for a smooth nomination process the next year.
  • Myth 5: It is primarily the responsibility of women to nominate other women for awards. Across AGU sections, women members average 15% of the total membership at the “experienced” career level. By this faulty logic, nominations for women would hover near the 15% mark, with awardees being an even smaller percentage. In reality, a large percentage of men will need to coordinate, lead, or support nomination packages for women to move the needle.

In the past weeks, an Eos article by Jaynes et al. [2019] has provided excellent tips for organizing collaborative nominations, whereas Hendratta Ali offers more general advice in an AGU blog post.

We urge AGU to catalyze change by publicly recognizing those who work purposefully to nominate members of underrepresented groups. This recognition should extend beyond the lead nominator(s) to include supporting letter writers as well as package coordinators.

Possibilities include the following:

  • publishing the names of all those who contributed to successful nominations from underrepresented groups in Eos and reading them out loud at the Honor’s banquet
  • issuing special ribbons that read “Nomination Equity Champion” (or the like) for the Fall Meeting badges of anyone who contributed to a nomination from an underrepresented group
  • extending free Fall Meeting registration for anyone who contributed to a nomination from an underrepresented group, compiled from the nomination submission form
  • inviting early-career scientists to join section canvassing committees so that they might advance their more diverse colleagues for nomination while learning the ropes of AGU Honors nominations early in their careers

Several generations of scientists are watching, impatiently, for change that is coming far too slowly.


Jaynes, A., E. MacDonald, and A. Keesee (2019), Equal representation in scientific honors starts with nominations, Eos, 100,

O’Connell, S. (2013), Consider nominating a woman for an AGU award, Eos Trans. AGU, 94, 99,

Symonds, M. R., et al. (2006), Gender differences in publication output: Towards an unbiased metric of research performance, PloS One, 1, e127,

Author Information

Jennifer B. Glass (@methanoJen), AGU Biogeosciences Fellow Nomination Committee 2017, 2018; AGU Biogeosciences Canvassing Committee 2019; and Kim M. Cobb (@coralsncaves), School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta

Editor’s note: This article was updated on 18 March 2019.

Citation: Glass, J. B., and K. M. Cobb (2019), Incentivizing equity and diversity in AGU Honors nominations, Eos, 100, Published on 15 March 2019.
Text © 2019. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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