How do you win a Nobel Prize?

Nobel Laureates: Not Your Average Joes

To get yourself in a position for that Nobel Prize, it's good to know the type of folks who have won the awards in the past. It's worth mentioning that you can't nominate yourself for a Nobel Prize. Instead, the selection committees, from institutions specifically chosen in Alfred Nobel's will, collect nominations from prestigious contributors in the field who are well-connected and able to recommend others. There's no limit on the number of times a person can be nominated. For example, women's suffrage and peace advocate Jane Addams' name came up 91 times before she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 [source:].

Depending on the type of award, a selection committee will choose winners from the nominations sent in. Committees in Sweden handle selections of all awards except the peace prize, which Alfred Nobel had requested a Norwegian committee be in charge of. For most awards, such as those given for physics, the deadline is February of each year, and winners are chosen in October [source:]. Nobel prizes aren't awarded to deceased individuals, unless the recipient dies between the time he or she is notified and the award ceremony a few months later [source: Altman and Wade].

But there's some debate about how the Nobel Prize committee selects winners. Beginning in the 1960s, some have argued that the process to select winners is subjective based on the preferences of a select few people on the committees [source: Garfield and Malin]. Another argument is that the awards favor individual careers over individual accomplishments. Many Nobel laureates receive the awards years after their most famous work, mostly because it could take years to see how a line of work ended up having a large impact. This isn't always the case, though. For example, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev received a Nobel Peace Prize shortly following his decisions that would lead to the end of the Cold War [source:].

On the academic front, researchers in a position to win the Nobel Prize usually publish more in peer-reviewed journals and are more likely to collaborate with others in the field. Still, there should be evidence that the person's work has had an impact on the scientific community -- for example, the number of citations a journal article has is somewhat indicative of its impact. One estimate suggests the top 0.1 percent of people most cited in their fields typically have a better shot at the Nobel [source: Pendlebury]. The committee also tends to view papers and experiments that stimulate additional research as beneficial.

Learn more about the prestigious Nobel awards next as you mull over your prizewinning strategy.

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  • Altman, Lawrence and Nicholas Wade. "One of 3 Chosen for Nobel in Medicine Died Days Ago." The New York Times. Oct. 3, 2011. (Jan. 12, 2012)
  • CNN. "How to Win a Nobel Prize." Oct. 5, 2006. (Jan. 12, 2012)
  • Doherty, Peter. "The Beginner's Guide to Winning the Nobel Prize." Columbia University Press. New York City. 2006.
  • Garfield, Eugene & Malin, Morton. "Can Nobel Prize Winners be Predicted?" American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting. 1968.
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  • "The Nobel Prize in Physics 1921: Albert Einstein." (Jan. 25, 2012)
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  • Zuckerman, Harriet. "Nobel Laureates in Science: Patterns of Productivity, Collaboration, and Authorship." American Sociological Review. Vol. 32, No. 3. 1967. (Jan. 12, 2012)

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