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The competition

We are delighted to announce that the Medical Research Council has partnered with The Observer for the Max Perutz Science Writing Award 2020. The award aims to encourage and recognise outstanding written communication by MRC PhD students. This year, the winner will have their article published in The Observer.

Why does my research matter?

We want you to tell us in 1,100 words about research that is within the research field of your PhD and why it matters. You must do this in a way that will interest a non-scientific reader – the hundreds of thousands of people who read the Observer.

You can write about your research, the research of someone you work with, or someone else entirely. It just needs to be in your field.

The winner will receive a prize of £1,500. There will also be cash prizes for the runners up and all shortlisters.

Everyone who is shortlisted will be invited to a science writing masterclass. We are also inviting all students who are interested in submitting an entry to two science writing webinars to obtain tips and guidance.

The awards ceremony will take place on 13 October 2020, featuring a talk by Robin Perutz, Max’s son – this will either take place online or at a venue in London.

Judging criteria

Our prestigious judging panel is chaired by Professor Fiona Watt, Executive Chair of the 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, and Samira Ahmed, Journalist and Broadcaster. They will select the winning article based on whether it:

  • Grabs the interest of readers, from the first word to the very last
  • Convincingly answers the question 'Why does this research matter?'
  • Explains the research in a way that is easily understood by a non-scientific reader
  • Is well structured

Max Perutz 2020 Panel

The article must be based on the research in the area of your PhD studies. Whether you write about your research, or someone else’s, your article can be about an entire research project or just one aspect of it. The article should not be a general review of the research area, so it is best to focus on one study, or a small number of closely-related studies.

When you are deciding what to write about, concentrate on a new exciting development in your research field 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?

Try to avoid too much history and background - aim for journalistic appeal rather than content for Wikipedia. In other words, describe a new, specific development and where it will take us.

Tell a story, rather than writing 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.

You should speak with other scientists who are experts in the topic you are writing about to help with your research. Feel free to quote human voices in the story rather than research papers– even if they hold opposing views.

Talk about your own research and 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.

The article should be written so that a non-scientific reader can understand. It should – obviously - be appropriate for publication in The Observer.

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 for the “Tips from the Experts” and “Ask the Experts” webinars.

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

Winning entries from previous years are also available. And you can look at the science coverage of the Observer to give you an idea of what we’re looking for.

The rules

  • The article should be no more than 1,100 words, including the title, anything over will be disregarded and not read as part of your entry
  • The article should be text only: no diagrams or tables should be included
  • Articles that have already been published elsewhere cannot be submitted
  • The judges’ decision will be final
  • Do not include your name or any other personal details within your document or in the file name
  • There is no need to provide academic references in your article. But do consider how referencing is done in a publication such as The Observer. The institutions and names of lead researchers will be included, as well as the journal in which the research was published, where relevant.


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/PhD

How to enter

  • 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: Please ensure the text is Arial 10.5pt and 1.5 spaced
  • 2020 competition closed – judging in progress

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