The ÜberResearch Prize

At the start of July, myself and a couple of other JIC students entered a competition on twitter – the ÜberResearch Prize. ÜberResearch is a “solutions and services company focused on the specific needs of science funders”. After winning a competition run by the British Library, AHRC and BBSRC they found themselves in possession of a £2000 prize, which they decided to forward on to a PhD student. And so the #uberresearchprize was born.

The ÜberResearch Prize was broken down into two stages. The first stage invited PhD students from across twitter to come up with an idea (in 140 characters, of course) of how they would spend £10 million of science funding. From this three short-listed candidates were chosen. I was one of those lucky three, and so I moved onto stage two. Stage two opened up our original tweets – challenging us to write a 500-word blog post about our idea. Considering my blogging experience of writing articles here had never had a word limit, I found it surprisingly difficult to say all that I wanted to say in so few words – but I think I managed it.

The three shortlisted tweets were these:

The blogs following up on these tweets were posted on consecutive days last week, and can be found at these links: Darin, Kevin, Izzy (aka me)

My tweet/blog was centered around the idea of providing lab experience to young school students – encouraging the next generation of scientists from a young age, and catching the attention of students who might choose an alternative career if they didn’t discover a passion for science at a young age.

The other two tweets covered different areas that £10 million of research funding could be put towards. These were about career structure of post-doctoral positions and open innovation. Looking at the list of entries (which you can find here in this handy Storify) there were definitely themes coming through. The main themes identified by the Storify were these:

  • Funding innovation
  • Science communication
  • Food security and poverty
  • Keeping young researchers in science
  • Open access publication
  • Health
  • Environment

There were also lots of entries made in specific scientific areas, such as tracking invasive species or climate change. Many entries also made suggestions of projects involving citizen science or crowdsourcing – such as the development of apps that anyone can use. Considering the decision of how to spend science funding is completely out of the hands of PhD students, they definitely have the ability to spot where funding should be going.

Ben and Jo, who both contribute to this blog also entered, with these tweets:

Interestingly, both Ben and Jo went for the idea of open access publication, despite the fact this idea didn’t make it to the top three. Open access publication is becoming a hot topic at the moment, with journals such as eLife making a big impact in scientific publishing. Open access means that anyone can access the latest research, rather than the research being hidden away behind paywalls. We are faced with the problem that the most prestigious journals, such as Science or Nature, are limited to those with the subscriptions or money to read (and publish in!) them. Open access would be hugely beneficial, but first we need to change perceptions, such as moving away from the impact factor system for judging publications.

Of course, as I mentioned at the start of this post, this is a competition. The winner of the competition wins a brand new MacBook Pro, as well as a Premium Figshare account and a Projects license. The runners up also get a ‘swag pack’ (I’m curious to see what is in this!) as well as a years Premium figshare account, a pro license for Readcube and a Projects license. The winner was announced at the start of the last week in August. Of course, it being a UK bank holiday, this meant having to wait a day more than any other week – which was very annoying! Yesterday evening, however, I discovered that I had in fact won the competition! I am now very eagerly awaiting my brand new MacBook (which comes at a perfect time – my old laptop is feeling it’s age!). This was a great experience to take part in, and even if I hadn’t won, I really enjoyed seeing the tweets and blog posts from the other students involved (Darin and Kevin both wrote really interesting articles). Hopefully more opportunities like this will come up in the future.

Readers might want to follow @uberresearch and @digitalsci

By Izzy Webb, a 2nd year PhD student in the lab of Prof Phil Poole

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