Non-fiction writing competition: send us your science writing, go graphical or submit a poem

28 May 2013
Emma Kemp

Competition closed

Update 13/9/13: read the winning entries

We're running our first ever writing competition! Surprise us with your imaginative science writing, wow us with your graphic non-fiction or impress us in poetry. Upload your entry by the deadline on 30th June and you could win 300 Euros and see your work live online.

See our tips for imaginative science writing. There are also answers to common questions in our competition FAQ*


Deadline 30th June 2013

Submit your entry

Welcome to our stem cell writing competition!

We've had lots of fun writing about stem cell and regenerative medicine research over the last few years, from website articles to a graphic story. Now we want you to join in. There's so much to think, discuss and write about in this exciting area of science, and so many different ways to do it. We know lots of you have got stories to tell too - about your view as a patient, your own research, or just something you read that got you fascinated by stem cells. We can't wait to see what you create!

We've got a fantastic panel of judges lined up and you can choose from three quite unusual categories: imaginative science writing, graphic non-fiction and non-fiction poetry. Read on for all the juicy details.

Competition categories

All competitions entries must be on the theme of stem cells and regenerative medicine and must communicate a relevant scientific concept to a non-specialist audience. We'd love it if you also explored other aspects of the research and its impact on society, and feel free to mix in your personal perspective or to look at the science from an unusual angle. The more creative the approach, the better. There are three categories:

Imaginative science writing

"The words 'creative' and 'nonfiction' describe the form. The word 'creative' refers to the use of literary craft, the techniques fiction writers, playwrights, and poets employ to present nonfiction—factually accurate prose about real people and events—in a compelling, vivid, dramatic manner. The goal is to make nonfiction stories read like fiction so that your readers are as enthralled by fact as they are by fantasy."
Lee Gutkind, author

Entries in this category must take a creative non-fiction approach. What do we mean? Think Oliver Sacks, Rebecca Skloot or Bill Bryson. Creative non-fiction is about making non-fiction stories read like fiction. The genre covers a wide range or works and often includes personal narratives, weaving the author's story together with scientific fact. You can read more about what creative non-fiction is and the techniques you can use in this kind of writing on the Creative Non-fiction website.

Some examples of the kinds of things we had in mind for this competition are:

  • An excerpt from the diary of a stem cell
  • Your personal reflection on why this science matters to you
  • A day in the life of a stem cell scientist
  • A patient's eye view of stem cell research

In all cases, remember you need to communicate some real science in an imaginative way. You can submit entries between 900 and 1250 words in this category. Entries must be uploaded as a Word document using the online form.

Non-fiction poetry

Poems can take any non-fiction approach to the topic. Some examples if you are looking for inspiration:

You can submit a poem between 20 and 40 lines long. Entries must be uploaded as a Word document using the online form.

Graphic non-fiction

Entries in this category can take any non-fiction, static graphical approach to the topic (no animations this year please - but let us know if that would be of interest in the future).  Some examples of different takes on graphic science non-fiction:

You can submit a graphic non-fiction entry of between 4 and 6 pages, set up to print as A5 portrait pages. Entries must be uploaded as 300dpi CMYK jpeg files, zipped together to make one uploadable zip file.

Who can enter

Scientists, patients, carers or enthusiasts of any kind. All you need is a story to tell. The competition is open to everybody worldwide regardless of age, scientific expertise or writing experience, with a few exceptions: Professionally published writers, poets or graphic artists may not enter; individuals named on the EuroStemCell grant, their employees and families are also excluded from entering. Please check our full competition Terms and Conditions to make sure you are eligible to enter and agree with our terms before submitting your entry.

Collaborative entries are also welcome. Got a good idea but need some help finding the words in English, or putting your graphic vision down on paper? This could be the answer. Just make sure you name all collaborators when submitting your entry. If you win, the prize will be split equally between everyone involved in creating the entry.

What you can win

Fame and fortune of course!

First prize
The winner in each category will receive 300 Euros and their entry will be published on and disseminated by EuroStemCell. We'll share your work (and your name!) with all our site visitors, newsletter subscribers, Twitter and Facebook followers across Europe and the world. The winning entries will also be showcased at a celebratory event about creative writing on stem cell and regenerative medicine research. This event will be introduced by Sir Ian Wilmut and will be held in the UK. Full details will be announced soon. Winners will be invited to participate in the event free of charge if they wish, but unfortunately we cannot cover travel or acccommodation expenses.

Runners up
Two runners up in each category will receive 50 Euros each. Runners up will be named on and their work may be published by EuroStemCell on our website or through our other activities. Runners up will also be given free entry to our celebratory event in the UK, but will be expected to cover their own travel and accommodation costs if they wish to attend.

The judges and what they are looking for

The first thing the judges will check is whether your entry fits into one of the three competition categories so do read the above descriptions of what each category involves. After that, the judges will be looking for:

  • Originality and interest - Is what you've written worth a read? Is it fun, fascinating, moving, surprising? Does it encourage the reader to think about your story and the science it contains?
  • Scientific accuracy and relevance - Have you conveyed some key science relevant to stem cell and regenerative medicine research? Have you checked your facts?
  • Clarity and accessibility - Could an adult with no scientific background understand and engage with your content? Are any technical or scientific terms you've used made clear from the context?
The judges want to read something that comes from YOU. Feel free to experiment with voice and style. As long as you can answer 'yes' to all the above questions you can use whatever writing techniques work for your idea. Here are some more helpful hints:

Imaginative science writing: Roger Highfield

Roger Highfield was born in Wales, raised in north London and became the first person to bounce a neutron off a soap bubble. He was the Science Editor of The Daily Telegraph for two decades and the Editor of New Scientist between 2008 and 2011. Today, he is the Director of External Affairs at the Science Museum Group. Roger has written seven books and had thousands of articles published in newspapers and magazines. (Photo by George Blumberg)

Read Roger Highfield on Science Writing: Grab them with your first sentence
Visit Roger's blog 


Non-fiction poetry: Emily Dodd

Emily Dodd is a freelance writer, storyteller and Educator based in Edinburgh. She has eight years' professional science communication experience and in that time has written shows and workshops for the Scottish Seabird Centre, Edinburgh University, The National Museums of Scotland, Our Dynamic Earth. She is a science screen-writer (including writing CBeebies' Science Show, Nina and the Neurons). She also works as the Scottish Book Trust Reader in Residence at Leith Library 2.5 days a week. She writes and performs joyful science poetry. Here's a poem she wrote about starlings and physics.

Visit Emily's blog

Graphic non-fiction: Ken MacLeod and Edward Ross

Ken has been a full-time writer since 1997. In 2009 he was Writer in Residence at the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum at Edinburgh University, and is now Writer in Residence at the MA Creative Writing course at Edinburgh Napier University. He is the author of thirteen novels, from The Star Fraction(1995) to Intrusion (Orbit, 2012), and many articles and short stories. His novels and stories have received three BSFA awards and three Prometheus Awards, and several have been short-listed for the Clarke and Hugo Awards.                   

Visit Ken's blog

Edward is a comic artist working in Edinburgh.  He studied Film and English Literature before a passion for comics took hold.  His work has focussed predominantly on graphic non-fiction, a fascinating branch of comics which is increasingly viewed as a powerful way to communicate complex ideas. He has worked on a number of science themed comics for labs and organisations across Scotland.

Visit Edward's blog

Scientific advisor for all categories: Debbie Sweet

Dr Deborah J Sweet is currently the Editor of Cell Stem Cell and a Publishing Director at Cell Press. She earned her BA from the University of Cambridge, UK, and her PhD at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, also in Cambridge. She then carried out postdoctoral research at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, USA. Dr Sweet began her publishing career in 1996 as the Editor of Trends in Cell Biology. She joined Cell Press in 1999, and before becoming the Editor of Developmental Cell worked as a Scientific Editor on Cell and Molecular Cell. She was closely involved in the successful launches of Developmental Cell (in 2001) and Cell Metabolism (in 2005), and was the launch Editor for Cell Stem Cell in 2007.

Visit the CellStemCell website
Follow CellStemCell on Twitter
Visit the CellStemCell Facebook page


First reader and competition organisation

Barbara Melville is a writer, book critic and magic consultant. She's published blogs, articles and educational materials on a wide range of science subjects, including genetics, medicine and astrophysics. She's currently Writer in Residence at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, assisting with various public engagement projects. She's also the creative director of Edinburgh-based storytelling collective Illicit Ink.

Barbara is the creative mind behind this competition. She will act as first reader and will shortlist entries in each category for examination by the judging panel. 

Visit Barbara's website

Emma Kemp is EuroStemCell's Information and Communications Manager and is based at the University of Edinburgh. She has a Chemistry degree and worked in scientific publishing after graduating from university. She has since gained wide-ranging experience in communications and education, working for corporate and public sector organisations. 

Emma is EuroStemCell's lead on this competition. She'll help make sure things run smoothly!

Terms and conditions

By submitting an entry to the competition you declare that you are eligible to participate, that the work you submit is your own, that you give permission for EuroStemCell to use and disseminate your work without restriction and that you have read and accept all the competition Terms and Conditions in full.  These terms apply to all entries regardless of whether or not they are selected as a winner or runner up.

Read the full Terms and Conditions

Submit your entry

The deadline is 23:59 GMT on 30th June 2013.
Submit your entry now using our online entry form.


If you have any questions about the competition, take a look at our FAQ. If you're still stuck , contact Barbara Melville.

Competition 2015

Is the competition still open for 2015?


Hi there, we don't plan to run the competition in 2015. Thanks for your interest.

2014 Competition

Hello,I was wondering if you are running a 2014 competition and if so when the deadline is.Best wishes,Mathura

writing competition

Hi Mathura, thanks for your interest. We would like to run the competition again, but probably not in 2014. Are you subscribed to our newsletter? That's a good way to keep up to date with our events and activities, and we would certainly announce any future editions of the writing competition there, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. Best wishes, Kate