Image of a shelf of trophies

Why don't scientists get the recognition they deserve?

3 February 2022

A reflection on scientific recognition by Professor Eddie Holmes

We often discover those who dedicate their lives to a greater cause are overlooked. But, without research pioneers who are committed to forward thinking, where would we be today?

An image of Professor Eddie Holmes

2021 PM Prize for Science award winner Professor Eddie Holmes.

A lack of recognition

Despite the essential and ground-breaking work of scientists, science teachers, innovators and STEM professionals more broadly, we have a long way to go in recognising the great influence and impact these individuals have every day. This is especially so in the past two years.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of science and innovation. I believe it has, and will continue to, amplify the extraordinary work scientists do. A silver lining for our discipline, perhaps?

The events of the past two months have clearly proven that we are still trying to predict how COVID-19 is evolving. Perhaps, we will never achieve this feat. Nevertheless, we will continue to fight the Omicron variant (and no doubt other variants in 2022 and beyond) through mobilising to rapidly develop and roll-out vaccines to ensure we are all protected against the virus.

Critically, the protection afforded by vaccines needs to apply to the whole world, as new variants could readily emerge in low-income countries where vaccine coverage is still poor. And along with broader vaccination we need to establish a global program for the ongoing genomic surveillance of COVID-19 and other diseases. This will allow us to quickly identify any newly emerged variant.

It took a catastrophic pandemic

When I reflect on the past two years, I cannot help but wonder why it has taken a catastrophic pandemic to help Australians recognise science. It is seemingly all around us, but it continues to evade our consciousness.

Without science, we would lose much of the convenience we have in modern life. We wouldn’t be able to check the weather on our phones each morning, we would be sitting in the dark without electricity and using ancient medicines to treat chronic illness. Science is our best line of defense against the current and future pandemics. It is science that brought us vaccines against COVID-19 in record time, along with an expanding range of treatments for COVID-19 and other diseases.

Late last year, many incredible Australian scientists were recognised for their discoveries in the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science.

Professor Anthony Weiss AM pioneered and commercialised tropoelastin to aid human tissue repair and has inspired both Australian investors and incubators to support the next generation of life science technologies. Professor Sherene Loi’s research at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre has led to the development and implementation of an immune biomarker test for breast cancer.

These breakthroughs will change the lives of so many Australians, yet there are so many others in the field of science whose achievements have not been applauded on the national stage. So, how do we as the science community recognise more of these unsung heroes who are revolutionising the world and improving our society?


The Prime Minister's Prize for Science

The Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science are Australia’s most prestigious awards for outstanding achievements in scientific research, research-based innovation and excellence in science teaching – and nominations are now open.  It is an excellent opportunity to recognise the impactful and innovative achievements of our leaders, colleagues, peers, teachers or mentors, who are making meaningful contributions to the Australian community, or more broadly, society.

Not only are you recognising their outstanding work, but the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science enable recipients to further showcase their scientific discovery, commercial venture or teaching achievements.

The pandemic has proven that the future is uncertain, and we cannot predict where it is going to go. But I have faith that Australian scientists, innovators and teachers will continue to make new discoveries, and inspire the next generation to position Australia as a leader in solving the world’s greatest challenges.

In the meantime, let’s all take it upon ourselves to pat each other on the back and give scientists, innovators and science teachers the recognition they deserve.

Nominations are now open for the 2022 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science and close on Thursday 10 February. Visit the website to help recognise the outstanding achievements of a scientist, science teacher or research-based innovator today.



Phil McManus
Professor Edward Holmes
View academic profile

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