University Science Writing Competition
    By Community Connect... | August 17th 2009 05:56 PM | 75 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    Last week we revealed the Top 10 Schools for Science based on the results of a 3-year study performed by US News&World Report. The study ranked the nation’s best science graduate programs, based upon the results of surveys sent to academics in Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Computer Science, Earth Science, Mathematics, and Physics.

    So who came out on top? Several universities had a strong showing in one particular science specialty, but the top schools demonstrated high performance in multiple disciplines. Which schools scored the highest across all specialties? Here are the Top 10:

    1.    Stanford University
    2.    Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    3.    University of California, Berkeley
    4.    California Institute of Technology
    5.    Harvard University
    6.    Princeton University
    7.    Cornell University
    8.    Columbia University
    9.    University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
    10.  University of Wisconsin, Madison (tie)
           Yale University (tie)

    Now we know what universities to attend in order to receive a phenomenal education in science. But it’s one thing to know a lot about science, and another thing entirely to be able to apply it and communicate it effectively. And communicating science is what we at ScientificBlogging are all about.

    So to highlight these outstanding universities, ScientificBlogging has decided to sponsor a little friendly competition between them. Today we announce our first ever “University Writing Competiton.” We invite graduate students that are currently enrolled at any of these Top 10 Universities (actually, eleven) to participate. The official rules are below, but the big idea is that we are inviting graduate students to write about science – on any scientific topic of their choosing. It is our hope to discover those exceptional students that not only know their science, but can also effectively communicate it to the scientific community - as well as to the general public.

    Original articles may be submitted on any subject that exists within the six key disciplines of science featured on ScientificBlogging: Physical Sciences, Earth Sciences, Life Sciences, Medicine, Social Sciences and Culture. In other words – just about anything. Finalists will then be chosen in each science discipline by an internal panel of ScientificBlogging staff, featured writers, and specialists in the various fields of science. Finalists will be posted for voting, and the final winners will be determined by the results of on-line votes cast by ScientificBlogging registered members.

    And this isn’t just for bragging rights - there are some real prizes involved. The types of prizes that debt-ridden students across the country value the very most (no… not beer) – CASH!

    GRAND PRIZE - $2,500 Cash AND a 3-month paid writing internship at ScientificBlogging

    The grand prize will be awarded to the author of the article receiving the most overall votes across all disciplines during the on-line voting period.

    SIX (6) FIRST PRIZES* - $500 Each
    One first prize will be awarded in each science discipline to the author of the article receiving the most votes in that particular discipline.  *On the off-chance that not enough submissions are received within an individual science discipline to fill a qualifying round of finalists, no First Prize will be awarded for that particular discipline.

    Each finalist will also receive a limited edition ScientificBlogging “Finalist” T-shirt. Wear it around campus during the on-line voting period to encourage friends, peers, and faculty to cast a vote your way! In addition, one finalist will be randomly chosen to receive a ScientificBlogging Flip MonoHD Video Camera.

    The competition begins September 1, 2009. All entries must be received by October 15th, and finalists will be announced on November 1, 2009. On-line voting will take place from November 1st – 22nd, and all winners will be announced on on December 1, 2009.

    So what can you do between now and September 1st?

    1. Register to get your own column on
    Obviously if people are going to vote on it you need to have an account to put it up. It takes a few seconds, so between now and September 1st sign up for an account, personalize your profile - and become part of our million-person family.

    2. Start planning and researching your article.
    Write about what you know. Write about what you’re passionate about. Write about what you’ve been excited to discover during your education, and what you’re excited to share with others. And take a little time to learn about the audience at ScientificBlogging too, as this is the audience you will want to appeal to.

    3. Encourage friends, family, and faculty to vote for you.
    Anyone will be able to read and leave comments on your article but only registered users will be able to cast votes for you if you become one of the finalists.

    It's not just an opportunity to have your work published on a premier science site receiving over a million readers per month, you also get to be reviewed by some of the most respected minds and writers in the science community and compete against some of the best graduate students in science. 

    And of course, it’s also a chance to win some cash.

    The official rules are below. If you have any additional questions, you may leave a comment at the end of this article, or contact Kimberly Campbell, Director of University Relations, at: kim at

    Contest Rules

    1. Participants must be currently enrolled graduate students at one of the following institutes: Stanford University; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; University of California, Berkeley; California Institute of Technology; Harvard University; Princeton University;  Cornell University; Columbia University; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; University of Wisconsin, Madison; Yale University.

    2. Submissions must be a minimum of 500 words.

    3. Submissions must be original work that has not been previously published.  Any references made within the work to other studies or publications must be credited and noted. However, submissions will not be considered and may be removed if they are primarily a collection of links to other articles.

    4. All participants must become registered users of, and follow the submission instructions provided for the competition.

    5. All submissions must be received between September 1, 2009 12:00am PDT, and October 15, 2009 11:59pm PDT.

    6. Individuals may submit more than one article to the competition, but only one article per person will be eligible to be promoted to the final round; selected at the discretion of the review panel.

    7. Submissions must be about science, and will be judged upon their clarity, accuracy, and relevance to the discipline of science under which they are submitted. Consideration will also be given to the contemporary nature of the topic, the overall readability of the article, as well as the writing skill of the author.

    8. Authors retain copyright of their work, although ION Publications will have the right to publish it on the ScientificBlogging website.

    9. Finalists will be notified by email by October 30, 2009. Finalists will be requested to provide a biography of themselves which will be posted along with their article during the on-line voting stage.

    10. Winners will be determined by on-line voting by ScientificBlogging registered users. Each user may vote for one article in each science discipline. Only one vote per science discipline per day will be allowed for each user account.

    11. Winners will be announced on the ScientificBlogging website by 12:00 noon PST on December 1, 2009.

    12. Cash prize winners will be paid by check by December 31, 2009. Grand prize winner will be offered a 3-month paid writing internship with ScientficBlogging from January 1, 2010 to March 31, 2010. The conditions of the internship will be outlined by the standard ION Publications Internship Agreement, which the winner must agree to. Failure to perform to the requirements outlined in the Internship Agreement will result in an immediate termination of the internship, and forfeit of any remaining monetary compensation.

    Submission Instructions

    1. Go to the website, and select the “Register Now To Get Your Own Column!” link found at the top of the right column.

    2. Create a new account.  This is your column and can be customized with your own banner, column name, photos, profile page, and content. You are now a registered user of ScientificBlogging and can add friends, chat, leave comments, and write blogs and articles. Participants in the competition are requested to create a personal profile, including a biography that discusses your current school, field of study, and other scholastic accomplishments - as well as any other information you'd like to share. For more information about our user interface, you can check out our FAQ. You can create your account at any time, even before the September 1st starting date of the competition. However, to submit an article specifically for the University Science Writing Competition, you must identify your entry per the instructions below

    3. Select the red “Contest” button found on the far right side of the ScientificBlogging category buttons that run across the top of each page. (note: this button will appear on September 1st and will lead you to the Contest Main Page)

    4. Select the “Summit an Article” button found in the featured block at the top of the center section of the Contest Main Page. (note: Contest Main Page will appear on September 1st)

    5. Locate the “Writing Competition - Select University” drop-down menu near the article “Title:” box (available on September 1st).  Select your school from the drop down menu. This action identifies this article as a submission into the writing competition. This will place your completed article on the “Contest Submissions” page for reading and review during the article entry and finalist selection periods.

    6. Be sure to enter a title for your article, and to select the science subject field from the drop down menu to identify the relevant discipline of science for your article. Articles must be at least 500 words long. 

    7. ScientificBlogging is not responsible for connectivity issues or unexpected site outages that my prevent participants from submitting articles for consideration before the deadline. We consistently maintain the site in order to have it available and operational at all times. However, it is recommended that contest submissions are not left to the last minute in case of unexpected technical difficulties with the site.

    8. In order to be considered, all entries must be submitted between September 1, 2009 12:00am PDT, and October 15, 2009 11:59pm PDT.

    9. All contest participants should sign up to receive the ScientificBlogging RSS Newsletter feed to receive updates and information regarding the competition. The newsletter feed button can be found in the lower right side of the ScientificBlogging header.

    10. Some additional questions about he contest have been addressed here.  If you have any additional questions, please leave a remark below, or write to Kimberly Campbell at kim at

    Please note that use of school names is not meant to imply an endorsement from them and all trademarks rest with their respective owners.

    We are excited to read what we are sure will be some fantastic articles on science, from the best science schools in the nation. Good luck to you all!


    I am currently an undergraduate student, and being busy do not write as often as I would like for Scientific Blogging. However, I am wondering why you are only allowing these "Top 10" university graduate students participate? I do not know if anyone from my university will participate, but excluding them because US News and World Reports decided they weren't a "Top 10" university seems a bit off to me. I know that not everyone is going to be able to say something as poignant as the other, but that is why this is a competition. As a scientific community, I would hope that we would realize that the influence of graduate research is due to the advisor and the individual student, not what school they attend, and that individuals should not be excluded based on their school of attendance.

    *end rant here*

    Otherwise, I am glad that the writing contest is taking place and if I were a graduate student I would probably participate. I wish everyone the best of luck and hope that this will help build the community.
    The short answer:   we have to keep the pool of writers small.   If it goes off without too much of a hassle, we will open up the next one to all schools but we have a limited amount of people who can read the papers and help pare them down to a manageable number.   

    Once that's done it's fairly easy because the audience can decide but we can't make it a free for all in the beginning.   

    Obviously we're the only science site that is open to everyone so we aren't elitist, we are just making this first one manageable.
    That's reasonable. Sorry for the rant. It is late. I'm probably going to sleep in a bit. Thanks for the clarification though, and I hope this competition goes off w/o a hitch!
    i am still a graduate student (in one of the schools) but i have already defended my dissertation and the phd degree will formally be conferred upon me around october 20. i would like to know if i am eligible for this competition.

    Scientific Community
    If you are a graduate student during the submission period for the competition (September 1 - October 15), then you are eligible.  Sounds like you you're part of that group.  We look forward to receiving your entry!
    The rules state that a submission must be original work that has not been previously published. Does that mean if I have published a paper about my research topic that I can't enter the competition? Or does it simply mean that I can't submit my article, but if I write a new piece on the same topic specifically for this competition that the submission is acceptable?


    Scientific Community
    Hi Rebecca,
    We are simply asking that any article submitted for the competition be a new, original, article that has not been previously published somewhere else.  That does not mean that if you have previously written about a topic, that you can't write about that same topic again.  But as you stated, it would need to be a new original piece.

    I hope that answers your question.  Please let us know if you need further clarification.

    Good luck!
    Jo Wolfe
    To clarify, does this need to be written on our own data? Would original analysis of another paper be fair game, as long as it covers something different than the paper, such as how that research applies to another topic?
    Scientific Community
    Hi Jo,

    No, it doesn't have to be your own data.  An original article discussing research performed by another source is fine, as long as it is a "new" article that hasn't been published elsewhere.
    Just a clarification, to enter the competition I understand that I have to register to get my own column. But once I've done that do I need to do anything to establish that I am a graduate student from one of the 11 universities listed above, or do anything to officially enter the competition?


    Scientific Community
    Hi Indrani,

    On September 1st, a new page devoted to the contest will become available, and on that page there will be a "Submit an Article" button.  The resulting screen will have a drop-down menu that will allow you to select the school you are attending, and attach that information to your article.

    Good luck!
    Great idea. I will encourage those I know in those universities to participate...
    If you need help in the evaluation process of submissions related to physics, let me know.
    I am interested in writing an article for the contest. Would I retain the rights to the article? I am wondering if it would be alright to submit the same article entered for the contest, or a similar version, to my school's scientific magazine after the contest is over (that publication would be out in December). Thanks,


    Scientific Community
    Yes, all authors retain copyright of their work.  All articles submitted to the competition must be original work that has not previously been posted or published somewhere else.  But rights of the article belong to you - and it is then up to you what you would like to do with the article after the competition.

    Is there an upper limit for the article word count? 500 - ?

    Thank you,


    No upper limit.   I think there may be a realistic limit because experts say that, unlike print, people max out at 3000 words or so for an article on a computer screen.    Most of the authors here split pieces into multiple parts if they are 10,000 words.
    Are figures allowed?


    Yes, outside the very small parameters we established it's up to your creativity.    The broad science audience, including people you tell about your work, will determine the final winner so whatever would sets you apart is a good idea.
    So is the contest for science articles or science blogging then? Thanks.

    "Original articles may be submitted on any subject that exists within the six key disciplines of science featured on ScientificBlogging: Physical Sciences, Earth Sciences, Life Sciences, Medicine, Social Sciences and Culture."
    Technical question:  I'm having trouble posting images with my submission.  I can click the Insert Image icon in the text tray and upload the file, write out the description and citation, and the URL, but there's no button to hit "OK" and when I click outside the Insert Image box, it all disappears.  Any thoughts?
    Hi Camille,  we couldn't find anything at all from you so we have been unable to replicate the issue.  You don't really need an 'ok' button ... if you upload it or link using a URL it just shows up.   Clicking outside the image box is a quirky gremlin-esque sounding thing so if you could create the article and save it as a draft we can match what happens in the log with what you are seeing.
    Hmm, I thought I did save a draft . . . will try again.

    [Hours later:]  Okay, now I'm just receiving "Validation Error" messages.  The little Save and Preview buttons at the bottom of the page also read "Save,Preview,Save,Preview" on each of them.  Tried on different computers, too.  Really weird.  I'll try again tomorrow.
    If I register after 1 Sep, can I still compete?

    The competition begins September 1, 2009.
    My program director JUST send us the info for this a few days back. Can I still register? Thanks.

    What a shame I can't enter - my school isn't good enough!

    Mine either!   But nothing says US News&World Report has to be fair.
    Is it correct to say that while the finalists will be chosen by an internal panel of scientificblogging staff and writers, the WINNER will be determined by just about anyone who wants to cast their vote (especially since registration is free and open to all?) Am I wrong in thinking this is unfair? Thank you.

    Yes, we have a limited capacity to narrow down the list but once that's done, it's up to the audience - and readers won't need to register.    So if you happen to know Ryan Seacrest and get him to mention you on TV, it's not a bad strategy.
    Hi Hank,

    Sounds like fun.

    So can I submit more than one article anytime between now and Oct 15th? And have I got it correct that the will the site display my articles between now and the Oct 30th?

    Yes to both.
    What do I do if I'm trying to edit my general account info and it keeps saying "Field Specialty" required and doesn't update my info? Not sure what that is - under biodata, I had my field and school and one more line about interests.

    Many "Validation error" notifications for me when I tried to post. Will this sort itself out?
    We haven't been able to see validation errors or find any in the logs.  If you have browser settings/security it may prevent the site from working.   We don't have anything exotic, just HTML and javascript, so it would make sense to enable those for this site.   The submission phase ends in a few hours.
    Zuli Kurji
    I've submitted my article, but unlike most of the other submissions, an icon in the corner with my school on it doesn't appear with when you click on my article. Is there something I needed to do to get that to happen besides choosing my school from the dropdown menu when I submit/edit the article? /clueless

    Zuli Kurji
    Nevermind, it's working now. Thanks!
    Still no logo for me. How did you get yours to show up?
    Zuli Kurji
    I don't know! I clicked back on my submission after about an hour and it was there. I don't know if it just takes some time to change, or if someone on the site saw my comment and fixed it, or if I did something when I went back to edit my links (but I can't imagine what it would be).

    I wish I could help more, sorry.
    Hi Hank -

    I'm having the same validation error problem as Nidhi and Camille above.  Tried different browsers and different computers over the past several hours.  I removed all images from my post, and I tried changing browser and system security settings.  Argh.  I know it's the eleventh hour, but do you have any suggestions for me?  I'll keep trying.

    Dear validation cohorts,

    Do you also receive a message saying the Web site has auto-saved a post for you?  I think I managed to skirt around the validation error I originally had by deleting that post and starting a new one.  You can still copy/paste into the window from Word, e.g., but deleting the old one seemed to do the trick. 

    . . . I don't remember if I had to do anything else.  Maybe sign out and in.  Hope that helps.

    Camille and Hank,

    Thank you for your suggestions. Everything is happy and well now, and posts are up.


    Hey!  I thought the submission deadline was October 15th 11:59pm PDT (which would be 2:29am on October 16th here on the east coast).  By my reckoning, I still have 90 minutes to get my submission it, but it's already closed :(
    Yeah, I was just about to post my essay and there were still 2 hours left in the counter when it all of a sudden said "contest ended"

    Same here! It's currently 10:52 PM PDT and the website says the competition is closed. That ain't right!

    double nuts
    Anyway the deadline could be extended so we can get our posts up? Kinda spent a while working on this.

    again, double nuts
    same here.
    btw, its 11:31 on the west coast right now not 1:31.
    Scrodingers Cat
    Hi Hank, Is it possible for you or someone to confirm that my submission was received? I had some trouble submitting it, but DID manage to do it well before the deadline. Thanks, Jigs
    The contest closed before time - some of us worked really hard. Is there any way we can still submit our entries?

    Forgot to mention that I was actually able to submit, but the article published with a bunch of errors, so I deleted it. When I tried to resubmit a couple of minutes later, the competition was closed (10:30 pm PDT)
    Follow up: I did get an email from, telling me that I could submit as a Word doc to her by noon today PDT.  Hopefully others in this thread received a similar email.
    Anonymous people who say they had something and want it extended are out of luck but if we have an error in the log and you have/had an article, you got an email from Kim this morning.    If people hadn't even created an account by the last hour of the last day of the event, we can't do much.
    Hi Hank - I was able to submit yesterday around 10:30 pm PDT, but I deleted it because there were errors in the post. I wasn't able to resubmit because the competition ended early (if you look at the time stamps on the comments on this page, the time is over an hour off). I didn't receive an email from Kim this morning. Did my submission not show up as an error in the log?

    Kimberly Crandell
    Naomi, I did attempt to contact you by email this morning.  Yes, you can get your entry to me directly at

    Sorry for the confusion,
    Hi Hank
    I had a few questions regarding the internship this contest offers, for future reference.

    Is the internship full time? Also, can it be done online, without moving physically? Do you need international students to be on a work permit to be able to intern for this or is the student visa ok? Thank you. G

    Our traditional internships are in our offices but for this contest it can be anywhere.  Because it is an internship rather than a job no special paperwork is required.
    Thanks Hank - Are we to understand that it is a flexible, part time internship then? G.

    If you get paid you have responsibilities but it doesn't have to be in the office and if someone is worried about having to write on a schedule they are probably in the wrong field.
    Hank: Where can I get info on the traditional internships and jobs you've mentioned above? Tim


    When does the voting period begin?

    Scientific Community
    Hi Camille,

    Finalists will be announced by the end of the day tomorrow (the 31st), and then we will have the voting set up and starting on Sunday November 1st.  Individuals can vote once a day until November 22nd, when the voting will close at midnight Pacific Time.    We'll email all the finalists and make an announcement on the site as soon as all the finalists are up.  Good luck!
    "Only one vote per science discipline per day will be allowed for each user account." - Does this mean a user account can vote on more than one day between Nov 1 - 22nd?

    Kimberly Crandell
    Yes- you can only vote for a particular article only once per day, but you can come back the next day and vote for it again.
    Okay. Sounds bizarre that a scientific site would allow such an unfair voting rule, but maybe that's how blogging works. My family and friends are not even interested in science and their votes once per day are what determines the winner and the recipient of a paid internship? Is there really no other way to do this?

    Kimberly Crandell
    Well remember... all individuals that have been selected as finalists are ones that we have already determined would make good candidates for a writing internship.  If we didn't think they had potential in this area, they wouldn't be among the finalists.  

    And the voting is to determine the writers that not just "scientists" or science professionals find interesting, but that the general public find interesting as well.  We are looking for writers that can cast a broad net, and make even those that "are not even interested in science" want to stop, and read, and potentially learn something new from one of our posts.

    I hope you participate in the voting and help select our ultimate winner.
    That helps, thanks. Also where can we get info on the traditional internships and/or jobs with as graduate students?

    I too have questions about the voting: Indeed you have chosen the finalists, but the real bait for the competition was the grand prize including an INTERNSHIP! The toughest part of the competition is the last round, and it is that that you've left to people who may just advance one person due to nepotism.

    We can try to raise public awareness in the course of writing blogs, but what has raising awareness got to do with selection of a winner in a competition? In other words, unless you're trying to spread awareness WHILE getting votes, the link between the two is unjustified.

    Please clarify these points thoroughly, since the spirit of the entire competition rests on this unconventional method.

    There's nothing unconventional about letting the smartest audience on the planet pick the winner of a writing competition.   The notion that some vague nepotism is somehow going to overrule a million people a month who read this site is not realistic.
    I too agree. While the cash prize is not important and you can choose to give it to the person who received the most votes, hiring an intern on the basis of how many friends and family they have (it is literally going to come down to that) is plain crazy and irresponsible. Few people have heard of internships being handed out in such a thoroughly unregulated manner. It is also highly discouraging for all future participants to take part in such a contest. Some students take this more seriously than you do perhaps since their career depends on such internship opportunities.

    Thanks for your time.


    Quick question. My school seal stopped appearing in the top left corner of my essay after I became a finalist (I get a red X). Is this error something I can remedy myself? (Perhaps I did something wrong.)

    It means you're at Harvard.  Actually, it should never have appeared at all because a Harvard lawyer said their trademark badge could not be used.   Harvard is in the competition because US News created the list but there are only 10 graphics in the badge at the top even though there are 11 schools, thanks to a tie.
    At least ten people so far intending to vote are getting either getting an "access denied" page or nothing happens when they click on the arrow.
    Scientific Community
    Yes, we're aware there is an issue, and we are working on it - hoping to get it resolved as soon as possible.  And it isn't just you that is getting impacted by it.  We're looking into it right now, and will get a notification out to all of the finalists as soon as it's running properly.  Thanks for your patience!

    Congratulations on making it to the final round, and good luck!