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NSERC prizes - Polanyi

Call for nominations

Nomination deadline: November 28 before 8 p.m. (ET). If the deadline falls on a weekend or federal holiday, your nomination must reach NSERC before 8:00 p.m. (ET) the following working day.

The NSERC John C. Polanyi Award was created to recognize and support a university researcher or team of researchers whose work has led to a recent outstanding Canadian advance in a field of the natural sciences or engineering.

NSERC is acting on the evidence that achieving a more equitable, diverse and inclusive Canadian research enterprise is essential to creating the excellent, innovative and impactful research necessary to advance knowledge and understanding, and to respond to local, national and global challenges. This principle informs the commitments described in the Tri-agency statement on equity, diversity and inclusion.


Candidates may be nominated by any individual or group. Self-nominations will not be accepted. In the case of individual candidates, posthumous nominations will also not be accepted. Current NSERC Council members are not eligible for nomination.

Candidates can be at any stage in their career, but at least one of the candidates must hold an NSERC research grant. Also, the research that led to the advance described in the nomination must have been supported by NSERC. NSERC reserves the right to rule on the eligibility of nominations and nominees.

NSERC strongly encourages nominators and university officials to consider equity, diversity and inclusion in their nomination processes.

In the case of a team nomination, members may be from academia, government or industry, and may be research associates, postdoctoral fellows or students. The team can be part of an international effort, but the majority of the nominated team members must be employed at a Canadian university or public or private organization. NSERC recognizes that teams may change between the time of the specific research achievements and the time of nomination. Nominations will be accepted when changes have occurred, but only where the core of the team remains intact.

An individual or team may be nominated for the NSERC John C. Polanyi Award and other NSERC prizes (Herzberg, Brockhouse, McDonald, Synergy or Strickland) in the same year, but can only receive one prize in a given year. Nominees may not receive more than one of the following prizes  for the same achievement: Brockhouse, Polanyi or Strickland.

Selection criteria and evaluation

Nominations will be judged on the significance and impact of the advance. Note that the stature of the candidates is not an evaluation criterion for this prize. While the interpretation of a “recent” advance is different among disciplines, NSERC has ruled that a period of less than ten years would be appropriate for most disciplines.

NSERC recognizes that the entire research ecosystem is strengthened by equitable, diverse and inclusive access and participation. In support of its ongoing commitment to cultural and systemic change in Canadian research, NSERC has updated and improved guidelines concerning contributions to research and training. The intended outcomes of the Tri-agency EDI Action Plan and recommendations from the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) inform these changes. NSERC’s revised Guidelines on the assessment of contributions to research, training and mentoring diversify the principles and considerations regarding contributions and assessing their quality and impact.

For the John C. Polanyi Award, NSERC will only assess the impact of the research within its field. While the benefits to Canadian society (societal impact) may be presented, it is not among the selection criteria.

Engineering and applied sciences research may differ significantly from natural sciences research because it is more focused on the direct application of knowledge for practical purposes, including economic, environmental, or social impact. The forms of contributions to research and the indicators of quality and impact recognize the diversity of natural sciences and engineering (NSE) research.

The nominator should clearly describe the quality and impact of contributions within this larger context for the multidisciplinary selection committee members.

A diverse selection committee of academic, government and industry research representatives from a variety of disciplines will review the nominations and recommend the successful candidates to NSERC. Members are selected according to NSERC’s Guidelines governing membership of selection committees. Since the selection committee is multidisciplinary, the nomination material should be written for non-specialists.

The selection committee may recommend not to award the prize in a given year if there is no outstanding nomination.

Nomination process

The nomination package must include

  1. a letter of nomination signed by the nominator(s) – it must be no longer than three pages and include a title describing the research achievement(s). The letter must clearly describe the recent outstanding advance (use the following points as headings), outlining the nature of the advance, its significance and impact; the letter must also include a summary of the advance for public release

  2. up to four documents relating to the recent, outstanding advance that provide evidence of its significance and impact on the scientific and engineering community

    • At least one of these must be a peer-reviewed article

    • The other documents may include testimonials and publications like journal articles, workshop papers/posters, communications, pre-prints, monographs, memoirs or special papers, review articles, conference/symposia proceedings and abstracts, government publications, and reports documenting contributions to engineering practice, among others

  3. the names and email addresses of six researchers who, in the opinion of the nominators, could be approached by NSERC to conduct an impartial review of the nomination

    • The proposed reviewers should not be in conflict of interest (see This link will take you to another Web site Conflict of interest and confidentiality policy of the federal research funding organizations)

    • NSERC strongly recommends that nominators suggest a cross-section of reviewers with expertise in the nominee’s area of research (i.e., Canadian and/or international researchers; from established to early-career stages; members of under-represented and marginalized groups, including women; researchers at a variety of academic and non-academic institutions)

    • Nominees must not contact suggested external reviewers in advance; please note that NSERC reserves the right to select all or none of the suggested reviewers

  4. for team nominations only, a brief letter from the team identifying one of the members as the spokesperson of the group; this spokesperson must be eligible to hold an NSERC grant and will be the contact person for NSERC on any matter related to the outcome of the competition (refer to NSERC's Eligibility criteria for faculty)

  5. a terms and conditions form for nominees signed by each nominee (do not use the encrypted digital signature function) – it is the nominee’s responsibility to retain a copy of the agreed terms and conditions for their records

  6. a terms and conditions form for nominators signed by each nominator (do not use the encrypted digital signature function) – it is the nominator’s responsibility to retain a copy of the agreed terms and conditions for their records

Submitting a nomination

Nominators are responsible for preparing the required documentation, which must adhere to NSERC’s General presentation guidelines. Documents that do not meet the presentation standards may be rejected or at a disadvantage compared to those that meet the standards. Note that hyperlinked material will not be considered as part of the review process. Compile your documents into a single portable document format (PDF) and submit your nomination electronically via the ICSP This link will take you to another Web site Secure Submission Site. Only documents requested by NSERC will be made available to the selection committee.

For re-nominations, nominators are asked to submit a complete and updated nomination package. The list of suggested reviewers should also be updated to include new individuals.

Nominations must be submitted before 8:00 p.m. (ET) on the deadline date. Late nominations will not be accepted. Once submitted, nominations cannot be updated.

In January, nominees will receive a system-generated email from NSERC with instructions to complete a This link will take you to another Web site self-identification questionnaire. The program collects and uses disaggregated self-identification data from all nominees to monitor levels of diversity and its policies and processes for potential systemic barriers. Although completing the questionnaire is required before peer review, each question is optional by selecting “I prefer not to answer”, and no self-identification data are seen or used by NSERC peer reviewers.

Conditions and reporting

The grant is tenable only at, and with the consent of, the Canadian university named in the nomination material.

The recipient(s) will be asked to confirm, by email or letter, their acceptance of the award and their ability to use the full value of the accompanying research grant. Because the grant may be distributed in either one or several instalments, the recipient(s) will be asked to submit a payment schedule.

The recipient(s) will be asked to report on the impact that the award has had on their research activities.

Notification of results

NSERC will electronically inform all nominees of the results of the annual competition by the end of June and publicly announce the names of the award recipients in the fall.