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Skills & careers

2021 competition now closed

We are delighted to continue our partnership with The Observer for the MRC Max Perutz Science Writing Award 2021. The award aims to encourage and recognise outstanding articles by MRC PhD students which engage a general audience. For the second year running, the winner will have their article published in The Observer.

Eligibility

Students are eligible to submit one article if they are:

  • MRC-funded PhD students in universities
  • PhD students in MRC units, centres, and institutes, regardless of source of funding
  • students currently enrolled on the masters’ segment of an MRC-funded integrated masters or PhD.
     

The writing competition

Why does my research matter? We want you to tell us in 1,100 words about the research within your PhD and why it matters.

Even if you have not started your research yet, or are at early stages of it, you can still write about the research you are planning to do and why it is important.

You must do this in a way that will interest a non-scientific reader – the hundreds of thousands of people who read The Observer. The article you write must also be timely, so readers get the sense they are reading about an area of research that is important now.

Entry criteria

Please ensure that:

  • the article is no more than 1,100 words, including the title. Anything over will be disregarded and not read as part of your entry
  • the article is text only: do not include diagrams or tables
  • you do not include your name or any other personal details within your document or in the file name
  • you do not provide academic references but do include journalistic references to the Who, What, When Where, and Why.

Please note that:

  • you cannot submit an article that has already been published elsewhere
  • you can enter the competition more than once (until you win) but you must submit a different article each time you enter
  • the judges’ decision will be final.
     

Prizes

The winner will receive a prize of £1,500 and their article will be published in The Observer. There will be cash prizes for the runners up and all entrants shortlisted. Everyone who is shortlisted will also be invited to a science writing masterclass.

The awards ceremony will take place on 21 October 2021, either online or at a venue in London, and will feature a talk by Robin Perutz, Max’s son.

Judging criteria

Our prestigious judging panel is chaired by Professor Fiona Watt, Executive Chair of MRC. She is joined by Dr Roger Highfield, MRC Council Member and Science Director of the Science Museum Group, Andy Ridgway, Journalist and Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at the University of the West of England, Bristol, Ian Tucker, Science and Technology Editor of The Observer, Gaia Vince, Journalist, Author and Broadcaster, and Dr Furaha Asani, Researcher and Writer.

Max Perutz 2020 Panel

They will select the winning article based on:

  • Creativity: the article should grab the interest of readers, from the first word to the very last
  • Content: the article needs to explain the research in a way that is easily understood by a non-scientific reader
  • Structure: it should be well structured and convincingly answer the question 'Why does my research matter?'
  • Timeliness: would it make sense to readers why they are being told about this research now?
     

Science writing advice

Science writing webinars

We hosted two science writing webinars with the aim of giving advice to help you write a high-quality article. You can watch the recordings:

  1. Tips from the Experts webinar
  2. Ask the Experts webinar

Advice from the judges

Write your article so that a non-scientific reader can understand it, and so that it is appropriate for publication in The Observer. You should:

  • concentrate on what is new and exciting about your research and what it might mean. Will it transform how a disease is treated? Does it pose deep ethical questions? Or will it change society in years to come?
  • avoid writing a general review, focus on your research
  • avoid too much history and background – aim for immediacy, salience and journalistic appeal rather than content for Wikipedia
  • tell us a story, rather than write an opinion piece. Experiment with structure. You do not need to tell your story in a linear chronological way. There may be other ways to grab and maintain the reader's attention
  • speak with other scientists who are experts in the topic you are writing about. They may help to contextualise your research. Feel free to quote human voices in the story rather than research papers – even if they hold opposing views
  • never forget that it is not enough to simply inform your readers: you need to entertain them too, since they always have better things to do with their time
  • look at the science coverage of The Observer to give you more ideas of what we’re looking for.

You can find feedback on previous entries and more tips for writing a winning entry in ‘The secrets of science writing’.

The winning entry from last year was published in The Observer. Winning entries from previous years are also available.

How to enter

The deadline to enter is 21 June by 17:00.

Please check your article meets the following criteria before submitting:

  • personal details: do not include your name or any other personal details within your document or in the file name
  • file type: Word document (DOC, DOCX file)
  • file name: use the article title as the file name
  • word count: no more than 1,100 words, including the title. Anything more will not be accepted
  • font and formatting: ensure the text is Arial 10.5pt and 1.5 spaced.

Enter the 2021 competition

If you have any questions please get in touch by emailing sciencewritingprize@ukri.org