Should You List Declined Awards on Your CV?

A practical and ethical dilemma.

September 29, 2014

It’s the time of year when I deliver information sessions on scholarships – specifically the annual Tri-Council scholarships given by the Canadian government.  It’s a thrilling session, full of inspirational words about taking the opportunity to build your curriculum vitae and the perils of procrastination. Students walk away with a completely altered world perspective, and I revel in my sense of power and altruism in sharing these coveted pearls of wisdom.

There is one area that I am conflicted on, and though it happens every year, I’ve never quite managed to reconcile the priorities of the “opposing” parties. I wax poetic in these sessions about how winning one award has somewhat of a snowball effect, as each award won and listed, makes each subsequent application (for scholarships, grants, graduate school applications, Academic job postings) that much stronger. However, as I explain that students should be listing all awards offered to them, I always feel a twinge of guilt, as the advice I give in some ways conflicts with my actual experiences of the awards process.

I advise students to be sure to list all awards they’ve won, even if they ultimately turn them down. A good example would be if a student is offered a Provincial Award with either the same or a lesser value than a National Award. As the student is not permitted to hold both awards at once, they would turn down the Provincial Award in favour of the National.  

However, what often comes into play are the staggered deadlines of both application submission and the announcement of results. If a student has applied for one major award, and then another a month later, often I have a good idea of the unofficial results of the first before the next applications are submitted to me. In each case, the student first submits the application to their graduate program department (either current or potential) for appraisal and ranking. The Scholarship Committee places a great deal of weight on how the department ranks an applicant in relation to the other students.

Where the conflict happens for me, is when the Department requests to remove a student’s application from the second competition when they know that student is going to win the first award. Were it simply a case of workload, I may not be so willing to acquiesce to this request, but I can appreciate their concerns in this instance. A student who wins the first award is likely going to be ranked higher than other students in the other competition. And since the student will have to turn down the second award anyhow, why not remove them from the pool, and consequently rank the other students higher?

I can’t argue the fact that this helps the other students to place higher in the rankings, and therefore look more attractive to the Scholarship Committee. I struggle with the fact that, as a consequence, the winning student loses out on the opportunity to be granted the award and therefore have the opportunity to list it on their CV and subsequent scholarship applications.

I am genuinely troubled by this situation, and am in some ways grateful that the decision has been taken out of my hands – as the Dean has approved this method of doing things. But a part of me feels the sting of injustice. I want to charge in and defend the rights of the students to have all opportunities available to them. But what of the other students? Shouldn’t we give them the best possible chances as well?

If any of my Dear Readers are familiar with this sort of scenario, I would love to hear your thoughts.  


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