On winning awards
I've won a few awards lately, basically for hanging around in continuing education long enough. Can't say that it affected my productivity. Of course, it could hardly go down! Evidently, winners of the Field Medal coast after the award. From Slate Magazine.
Prizes and rewards are designed to produce more effort, to give people something to strive towards. But what happens once they actually get it? According to a new study by Harvard's George Borjas and Notre Dame's Kirk Doran of recipients of the Fields Medal, the most prestigious prize in mathematics, winning big actually kills productivity.
Mathematicians who win it publish far less in the years afterwards than similarly brilliant "contenders"—highly cited mathematicians who won other prestigious awards before the age of 40 (the cutoff for the Fields), but not the prize itself. The prize is awarded every four years to two, three, or four mathematicians. It goes to show that major awards and recognition can have unintended consequences.
This is explained, in part, by the classic economic "wealth effect." The impact of the Fields medal is significant. It's more prestigious than any other prize, and though the financial reward is a meager $15,000, the career and research opportunities available to a winner expand massively. Because they've achieved so much "wealth" in terms of prestige, job security, and opportunity, winners are more likely to choose leisure activities over work, just as someone who suddenly comes into significant monetary rewards might. Not only do they produce fewer papers, but the ones they do write are relatively less important. And winners take fewer mentees, as well.