MRC Max Perutz Science Writing Award

The MRC Max Perutz Science Writing Award is our annual writing competition for current MRC PhD students. It aims to:

  • support the career development of our PhD students
  • help our PhD students build their skills to become tomorrow’s leaders in discovery science
  • encourage and recognise outstanding written communication.

The award is named after the eminent scientist and Nobel Laureate, Dr Max Perutz, an accomplished and natural communicator. He was a passionate advocate for communicating the benefits of science and engaging people with research. Dr Perutz was a molecular biologist who founded the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in 1962.

Since the competition began in 1998, more than 1,000 MRC researchers have entered to communicate their research to the public.

The winning article is published in The Observer, our media partner since 2020.

The winner receives £1,500. There are also cash prizes for:

  • one runner-up: £750
  • one commended entry: £400
  • seven shortlisted entries: £250 each

The 10 students who make the shortlist will be invited to a science writing masterclass.

For the award’s 25th anniversary in 2022, we celebrated its impact on previous winners. Read the winning article, by Emily Cornish.

Who can enter

You are eligible to submit an article if you are:

  • an MRC-funded PhD student in a university
  • a PhD student in MRC units, centres and institutes, regardless of your source of funding
  • a student currently enrolled on the masters segment of an MRC-funded integrated masters or PhD.

Previous winners are not eligible to enter.

This year’s award is now closed.

What we’re looking for

Your article should tell the reader in 1,100 words why your area of research matters.

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

If you haven’t started your research yet, or it’s at an early stage, you can still write about the research you are planning to do and why it is important.

Make sure that your article is:

  • written in a way that will interest a non-scientific reader. More than 130,000 people read The Observer and they won’t all be from a scientific background
  • timely, so that readers get the sense they are reading about an area of research that is important now.

How to enter

You must ensure that:

  • the article is no more than 1,100 words, including the title (anything over the word count will be disregarded as part of your entry)
  • the article is text only (do not include diagrams or tables)
  • the text font is Arial 11pt and 1.5 spaced
  • 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 or a bibliography
  • you do not include any text-level formatting such as bold, italics or strikethroughs (for web accessibility reasons)
  • the article you submit has not already been published elsewhere
  • if you’ve previously entered, you do not submit the same article.

Submit your entry

To enter, you need to:

  • complete the entry form providing details about yourself and your place of study
  • upload your article in Word format.

Open the entry form (SurveyMonkey) and submit your article.

Entries must be submitted by 22 June 2022.

How to write your article

Write your article so that a non-scientific reader can understand it. You should also ensure it is appropriate for publication in The Observer. We suggest that you:

  • bring in the research straight away and be clear about why it’s important to talk about it now
  • avoid too much history and background. Aim to engage the reader with the research from the beginning
  • avoid writing a general review. Focus on the research
  • concentrate on what is new and exciting about the research and what it might mean. For example:
    • will it transform how a disease is treated?
    • does it pose deep ethical questions?
    • will it change society in years to come?
  • tell a story, rather than write an opinion piece
  • experiment with structure. You do not need to tell your story in a linear way
  • speak with other scientists who are experts in the topic you are writing about, they may help to contextualise the research
  • feel free to quote people in the story rather than research papers, even if they hold opposing views
  • bear in mind that it’s not enough to simply inform your readers, you need to engage them too. They always have other things they could be doing with their time
  • look at the science coverage in The Observer for more ideas.

For more writing tips and a summary of feedback from judging panels on previous entries, read about the secrets of science writing.

For inspiration read the winning entry for 2021, published in The Observer.

How we will assess your article

All submitted articles are triple-blind marked through a judging process.

The shortlist of the top 10 articles is then reviewed by a judging panel. Throughout the judging process, articles will be assessed using the following criteria:

  • creativity: the article should grab the interest of readers, from the first word to the very last
  • timeliness: does it make sense to readers why they are being told about this research and why it matters now?
  • 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 this research matter?’

The judges’ decision will be final.

Previous award winners

The winners of the MRC Max Perutz Science Writing Award for the past 10 years are listed below. You can read the winning and shortlisted articles by following the links.

Emily Cornish (2022)

Read the 2022 winning and shortlisted articles

Vicky Bennett (2021)

Read the 2021 winning and shortlisted articles

Sarah Taylor (2020)

Read the 2020 winning and shortlisted articles

Akira Wiberg (2019)

Read the 2019 winning and shortlisted articles

Natasha Clarke (2018)

Read the 2018 winning and shortlisted articles

Kirstin Leslie (2017)

Read the 2017 winning and shortlisted articles

Liza Selley (2016)

Read the 2016 winning and shortlisted articles

Emily Eisner (2015)

Read the 2015 winning and shortlisted articles

Christoffer van Tulleken (2014)

Read the2014 winning and shortlisted articles

Scott Armstrong (2013)

Read the 2013 winning and shortlisted articles

Andrew Bastawrous (2012)

Read the 2012 winning and shortlisted articles


For more information email the MRC Max Perutz Science Writing Award team.


Last updated: 4 November 2022

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