Prime Minister's Prizes for Science guidelines for managing diversity

Outlining the measures taken to reduce the impact of implicit bias in the nomination and selection processes for the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science.

This guide is supplied to members of the selection committees prior to the assessment of nominations.

The Prime Minister's Prizes for Science


The Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science are Australia’s most prestigious awards for outstanding achievements in scientific research, research-based innovation, and excellence in science teaching. The prizes recognise the achievements and success of Australian scientists and innovators, as well as the critical role science educators play in inspiring and encouraging students to take an interest in science and to consider science as a career. To ensure that the prizes truly recognise the most worthy nominees, it is important that the nomination and selection processes reflect the diversity of the communities being recognised. This includes ensuring the communities are empowered to identify and nominate diverse candidates, and that the selection processes are aligned with the latest best practice.

Implicit bias

Diversity in the recipients of recognition demonstrates a commitment to equity, and most selection committees strive for fairness in selecting prize winners. However, studies have shown that unconscious beliefs or assumptions – the phenomenon known as ‘implicit bias’ – can unintentionally influence judgement [1].

Research has shown that women do not receive scholarly recognition (awards and prizes for research) at a rate commensurate with their numbers in a discipline, or in line with the percentage of nominations [2]. While there are probably many factors contributing to this outcome, the research shows implicit bias is the most significant factor [3]. The following guidelines are intended to reduce subjectivity and minimise implicit bias in the nomination and judging process for the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science and Science Teaching.

Committee members are required to review this briefing paper and other training resources provided by our department on managing implicit bias annually in advance of reviewing nominations.

Composition of the prize committees

Several recent studies demonstrate that more diverse groups with a greater breadth of perspectives make better decisions [4]. In addition, diverse committees provide access to a wider set of networks for cultivating nominations. The department will continue to ensure the Prime Minister’s Prizes committees are gender balanced in alignment with the government board diversity targets of 40/40/20, and encourage diversity in other aspects of the committees. It is expected that all committee members will advocate for diversity with it not just being the responsibility of committee members from under-represented groups.

Encouraging nominations

Recognition of career interruptions

The Prizes committee must consider the nominee’s achievement in the context of opportunity and experience, including any career interruptions and other relevant circumstances. This is modelled on the Australian Research Council’s Research Opportunity and Performance Evidence criterion. It enables evaluation of a researcher’s activities, outputs and achievements, in the context of career and life opportunities and experiences, including, where relevant, significant career interruptions.

This criterion supports all eligible researchers and recognises the diverse circumstances that can affect research opportunity. It has a particular emphasis on supporting those researchers in under-represented groups or experiencing proportionally more career interruptions, including women, First Nations People, and early and mid-career researchers.

As set out under the guidelines, the definition of what constitutes a career interruption has not been limited to a fixed set of circumstances and includes:

  • caring and parental responsibilities
  • disaster management and recovery
  • limited or no access to facilities and resources
  • medical conditions/disability/misadventure
  • non-research employment
  • unemployment
  • community obligations, including Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander cultural practices and protocols; or
  • any other circumstances which have resulted in a break in research employment.

Promote a large and diverse pool of nominees

The Prime Minister’s Prize recipients are selected based on selection criteria outlined in the programme guidelines, so it is vital that the pool of nominees contains as many eligible candidates as possible. The department will promote the criteria and dates of the nomination period widely across multiple media channels, including social media and the department’s websites. In particular, the department will promote the prizes directly to underrepresented groups and their associations using these methods and via email.

Periodic review of the eligibility guidelines

The department will review the eligibility guidelines annually to ensure that they remain current, and wherever possible eliminate any barriers to diverse nominations. This includes reviewing the language used in the guidelines, and the requirements for each individual prize against best practice.

Publicise the criteria and deadlines for the prizes widely

The department will develop an annual communications plan aimed at increasing the awareness of the prizes among the general community and the science sector. This has the added benefit of increasing interest in the Prizes and making the selection process more transparent and inclusive.

Selecting prize recipients

The following are guiding principles for the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science and Science Teaching committees to reduce the effects of implicit bias in selecting prize recipients.

Discuss the process and criteria before reviewing nominations

Make sure your prioritised list of attributes matches the eligibility guidelines for the prize. Research has shown that implicit bias can enter via inadvertent “criteria shifting” after nominees are discussed.

List your personal top nominees before hearing the recommendations of others

This can help mitigate the undue influence of one member and ensure that the committee’s list of viable candidates will be as large as possible. Take the time to look carefully at each nomination, and select candidates for consideration because they meet the merit criteria, rather than finding reasons to eliminate candidates. Committee members will provide scores and ranking of nominees to the prizes secretariat ahead of the committee meetings and before discussions occur.

Ensure that every committee member’s voice is heard

Budget adequate time to make a decision and moderate selection discussions to include all members. Studies show that implicit bias is lessened when committees have time for thoughtful reflection and discussion.

Avoid perceived and actual conflicts of interest

Committee members should make clear any connection with a person under consideration for an award so that the committee can come to a decision with respect to participation in further discussions.

If a committee member is nominated for a prize they must step down from the committee if they wish to pursue the nomination.

A member of the prize committees may find that they are in a potential conflict of interest situation with respect to a particular nominee, because of an existing or former relationship with the nominee of a professional or personal nature; in such a situation, the member shall disclose the nature of the potential conflict of interest to the committee chair at the earliest opportunity and the committee chair shall then consult with the programme delegate on how to proceed.


[1] Women in STEM Careers: International Perspectives on Increasing Workforce participation, Advancement and Leadership: Chapter 9, Professional societies and gender equity in STEM.

[2] The Matilda Effect in science: awards and prizes in the US, 1990s and 2000s. Anne E. Lincoln, Stephanie Pincus, Janet Bandows Koster and Phoebe S. Leboy, Social Studies of Science 2012 42:307.

[3] Does Gender Bias Influence Awards Given by Societies? Mary Anne Holmes, Pranoti Asher, John Farrington, Rana Fine, Margaret S. Leinen, Phoebe LeBoy, Eos Trans. AGU, 92(47),421.

[4] Women in STEM Careers: International Perspectives on Increasing Workforce participation, Advancement and Leadership: Chapter 9, Professional societies and gender equity in STEM.

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