5 February 2019

"But let's not get too distracted by awards"

Naomi Ellemers takes home prestigious prize

Social psychologist and Utrecht University Distinguished professor Naomi Ellemers has received the Career Contribution Award. This oeuvre prize is awarded annually by the world's largest organisation for social psychologists: The Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). Of course, Ellemers is thrilled with this recognition. "Notwithstanding, I'm familiar with the downside of such awards as well," the Utrecht-based scientist says.

Naomi Ellemers

That the American SPSP has chosen a Dutch scientist as recipient of its career achievement award this year is a unique occurrence. In fact: this honour is rarely granted to scientists working outside the walls of American universities. Ellemers finds this frustrating: "Objective verdicts regarding quality in science, like this prize, are often based on quite subjective assessments, or on the networks of the scientists in question. Such high-quality research is being conducted in Europe – and in the Netherlands specifically – yet it often remains invisible to those responsible for handing out the major, and mostly American, scientific awards, simply because Americans lack a clear picture of the types and scope of research that is being conducted outside the United States."

Global superstars

The fact that these prizes tend to go to Americans reinforces the idea that all the noteworthy work is being done in that country. Ellemers: "I see it all around me, particularly among young researchers: they all want to go to the US and meet the experts there, which is totally unnecessary! We have global superstars in a wide range of research fields right here in the Netherlands."

Serious cash

Ellemers warns not only researchers, but also university boards to avoid being overly distracted by prizes of this kind. "They regularly put up serious cash to bring in an award-winning American researcher here, who then spends all the received start-up capital, runs into trouble when trying to secure a follow-up grant – many times because he or she is unfamiliar with the proper application procedure for Dutch or European grants – and then leaves."

Revolutionary study

Ellemers' research focuses on differences in power and status, diversity in organisations, ethical climate and employee motivation. According to the SPSP, one of Ellemers' most significant contribution is "the variety of techniques she uses to explore some of the most important social issues of our times (e.g. inequality, trust, cooperation, migration, ethical actions, and climate change)." In late 2018, her book Morality and the Regulation of Social Behavior was described in NRC newspaper as "a revolutionary study". Her academic article on gender stereotypes is one of the ten most-downloaded articles on the Annual Reviews website.

And in newspaper De Volkskrant, Ellemers spoke at length on the importance of awards for the scientific community.