The Wellcome Trust announced their inaugural Science Writing Prize, in association with The Guardian and The Observer last week (7 April). The new competition encourages non-professional science writers to submit a short (800 word) article aimed at the general public for consideration by a panel of distinguished judges. The two winners will be awarded a £1000 cash prize, and their article will be published in one of the newspapers.
The launch of the prize will fill the gap left by the loss of The Daily Telegraph Science Writer’s Award in 2009, which helped launched the careers of many, including science writer Ed Yong.
“Winning the Telegraph award opened up many doors for me,” Yong told ASBW. “It proved to potential editors that I could write and gave my pitches an extra bit of punch. More importantly, it proved to me that I could write and gave me extra motivation to practice and pitch.”
Another well-known competition for non-professional writers, The Guardian Student Media Awards, have no category for science writers.
Now, the Wellcome Trust Science Writing Prize invites applicants from the UK and Ireland to write a short, innovative piece on an area of science that they are passionate about, and which is suitable for publication in The Guardian or The Observer.
Competition organiser Alok Jha, who is a science and environment correspondent at The Guardian,said: “We want to identify some of the best writing about the remarkable ideas and stories emerging from the world’s laboratories, field trips and research journals. If you can enthuse people about cutting-edge particle physics or the latest developments in synthetic biology, this is the competition for you.”
Only non-published, amateur writers are eligible to apply for the prize. There are two categories: one for professional scientists at postgraduate level and above, and another for anyone else with a non-professional interest in science, including undergraduates.
The judging panel includes editors from both newspapers and representatives from the Wellcome Trust, who will be looking for originality, innovation and a distinctive writing style.
Apart from the cash prize for winners in each of the two categories and publication of the story, there will be a further, award for the top thirty entrants on the shortlist who will be given the opportunity to attend a science writing workshop at The Guardian.
Lewis Dartnell, astrobiology researcher and published science writer, won second prize in The Telegraph competition in 2004, and is enthusiastic about its impact on his career. “I still have that ‘first published piece’ framed at home!” he told ASBW. “I freelance regularly, and the award even set me on my PhD path. I am really excited that now the Wellcome Trust are taking up the mantle and launching a new science writing award — I hope lots of other people can now benefit in the way I have.”
The deadline for applications is 20 May 2011, and the prize will be awarded at a ceremony in London on 12 October 2011. For more information, see the competition web site.
This news report was written by me for the website of the Association of British Science Writers, and can be found here