14th January 2021

“Science isn't finished until it's communicated. The communication to wider audiences is part of the job of being a scientist, and so how you communicate is absolutely vital.” So said UK Chief Scientist Sir Mark Walport back in 2013, and his words ring true more than ever today. In this post, Martin Ince explains how you can enter the Association of British Science Writers’ Awards for a chance of money, glory and even some media training...

Right now, science is in the news more than ever. But how does it get there?

A lot of the time, the science stories you read, see and hear, whether via older or newer media, come to you from a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW). About 600 in number, we range from BBC Science editor Pallab Ghosh to people working freelance (a growing trend), writers in technical and trade journalism, and associate members who work in science PR and related fields. 

One of our many activities, undertaken jointly with our allies at the Irish Science and Technology Journalists Association, is to run the UK and Irish science writing awards. The awards recognise high-quality work in every form of science writing except books, including news stories, features for specialist and general audiences, video and audio programmes, and many others. 

For me as chair of the judges, the sheer amount of talent on display in the 200+ entries that come in each year is humbling as well as impressive.

Where do you come in?

Our awards encourage writing about the experience of being a scientist, not just the findings of science. But the ABSW appreciates that even the clever people who make up our membership don’t know everything. There is a long tradition, which we are anxious to encourage, of scientists themselves telling the world about their work. 

Our prize in this field is the Dr Katharine Giles award. It is named in honour of Dr Giles, a distinguished polar scientist tragically killed in a cycling accident in London in 2013 at the age of 35. In the age of climate change, her work on sea ice could scarcely be more topical, and Katharine herself was a devoted explainer of her work to external audiences.

We are grateful to the Dr Katharine Giles Fund, set up to celebrate her life, for its support of an award for the best article by a scientist or engineer in any medium. It’s a joint venture with STEMPRA, the body for science PR professionals. We intend the award to recognise someone near the start of a career, and last year’s winner was a student.

While great science continues to happen in all areas of research, it’s obvious that COVID has brought BSAC’s work into the public eye in an unexpected way. When judging the awards for 2021, we intend to recognise good writing about the pandemic, but also to acknowledge great work across all areas of science and technology.

So, here’s what the marketing types term the “call to action.” If anything you wrote for a general audience in 2020 still impresses, take a look here at whether it might be worthy of a prize. The winner gets £600 plus media training by the Royal Society – there’s posh for you. Don’t dawdle, as entries close on February 1. One cautionary note: the piece has to be about science or technology, not the delivery of health care. There are other prizes for that big, important subject.

Martin Ince is past chair of ABSW, and a writer and commentator on higher education and research. He now chairs the judging of the ABSW awards

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