TOS Honors Program

MEMO: Recommendations Concerning Broadening Participation in TOS Honors

FROM: Frank Muller-Karger and EeShan Bhatt on behalf of the TOS JEDI Committee

TO: Andone Lavery, TOS President and Chair, TOS Nominations Committee

DATE: 19 October 2021

Dear President Lavery:

We would like to make some recommendations with regards to broadening participation and recognition in TOS, using the Honors process.

At present, TOS has these Honors categories:

  • Fellows
  • Medals (Wallace Broecker/chemistry, Walter Munk/physics, Mary Sears/biology)
  • Awards (Jerlov/optics, Mentoring, Early Career, Ocean Observing)

The TOS Fellows (established in the early 2000’s) and Jerlov Award (established in the late 1990’s) are the oldest honors awarded by TOS. All others (Medals, Early Career, Ocean Observing) are relatively new.

TOS may be able to broaden participation in its honors system by including members of the community (government, academia, private sector, civil society) who make significant contributions in different areas related to ocean science and marine affairs.

Specifically, the JEDI Committee identified two areas where TOS may be able to help broaden participation and address JEDI issues:

1. The image, face, geographic, and diversity representation of awards:

Of the Fellows, distribution to date is about 50-50 female-male, but nearly or all 100% of the recipients are North-American, the balance perhaps a couple of people from Europe.Awards: The people awarded are largely US-based researchers or teams, perhaps one person from the UK. The Jerlov award, which is a bit older, has awardees mainly from the US or France.

Medals: All three current medals are named after US investigators – the recipients so far are US researchers with relatively big names in US academia.

2. Language describing the awards and requesting nominations:

At present, the language for some of the honors, particularly medals, focuses on sustained contributions that are impactful to the community. A concern is that researchers, government officials, or members of the private sector and civil society in developing nations and small island developing states may have different definitions of sustaining contributions and impacts – if this is only measured in the traditional model of high-output academia and fame (papers, money, standing in the international peer-reviewed community, name of institution), then people who may deserve an honor because of very impactful contributions in local or traditional communities, even if sustained, will never be considered. Both the larger present TOS academic community or even TOS selection committees will not deem these people as worthy of being recognized, and this is something we’d like to change.

In the eyes of the global TOS community, these questions may come to mind in seeing this situation:

      • Should anyone be expected not to be competitive for the present TOS medals if they have had an impact in another region or culture, but are not from a big US or European institution?
      • If TOS proposes a new set of awards for diverse or developing nation investigators: is this seen as second-rated compared to the present Medals (Munk, Broecker, Sears)?
      • How do we make this more attractive for other nominees and for TOS as a whole?

We have some draft recommendations for TOS and welcome a dialogue with the TOS Council and Honors committees.


1. Consider broadening the geographic representation of people honored by naming awards after them. At present, all awards and medals carry either North American or European names, all white – it would be appropriate to recognize the contribution of other groups of people from different backgrounds in the names.

2. Consider establishing additional awards intended specifically to broaden participation. It will be important that any additional honors not be viewed as ‘second tier’. A possibility is that new awards intended for under-represented groups (nationally, internationally) could carry some monetary benefit; the TOS membership is already a nice benefit.

3. It may be useful to consider a process whereby the TOS community identifies the naming and focus for such a next step (although this can also be complicated and may not have the desired results).

4. Review the language describing each honor/award so that it reads inviting to a broader set of TOS stakeholders.

5. In line with TOS values, award guidelines should include the broader essence of the contributions and the careers of the scientists whom we have named awards after; these may be of high relevance at local or regional scales and may carry high human value (i.e., not necessarily simply amount of peer-reviewed publications or projects visible in the English-speaking ocean science community). If no such qualities exist associated with existing named awards, or such qualities are actively against TOS values, then perhaps consider renaming the existing awards.

6. Review how nomination materials specify the dimensions of diversity that are considered in evaluating nominees; are there appropriate ways to formalize the request for voluntary demographic information from nominees?

7. Consider instituting regular implicit bias training for the nomination and selection committees (also, perhaps more generally across TOS).

8. Consider how barriers to nomination could be lowered, especially for those in our community deserving of recognition that do not have as much privilege as their colleagues. For instance, consider removing the requirement for a nominee being a paying TOS member for X number of years prior to nomination, since having the capital and privilege to pay regular membership fees is separate from being worthy of recognition. Another barrier may be the expectation that Honors recipients should give a presentation in English (which they may not be comfortable doing) and that they are expected to pay their own way to Ocean Sciences Meetings (OSM, etc.) to receive the honor (except for the few awards that do provide travel support).

9. Consider if every nomination category should reach a specific minimum number of total nominations and/or specific demographic thresholds in order for the selection committee to move forward with making selections from the nominee pool. If there are insufficient nominations, then perhaps suspend the nomination review process and award until the next cycle.

10. Consider how the current nomination process of accruing multiple reference letters presents a barrier to highlighting a wider demographic of awardees and receiving nominations from a wider demographic of nominators, and how amending the nomination process may render more equitable nominations and outcomes.

Thank you for allowing us this opportunity to provide input on the TOS Honors process.

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