The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are the country’s most comprehensive national science awards, recognising the achievements of scientists, researchers, and science communicators at all career stages. Each year we receive hundreds of entries contributed to by thousands of individuals, which are put through a rigorous judging process to determine just one winner for each prize. To set you on the right path with your submission, we share our insights based on some of the most common mistakes and misconceptions.

2020 AM Eureka Prizes - Finalists

Dr Jiajia Zhou, selected as a finalist in the 2020 Eureka Prize for Emerging Leader in Science, has emerged as an international leader in the application of single particle spectroscopy.

Image: Kevin Anastacio
© University of Technology Sydney

Judges aren’t looking for a particular ‘type’ of entry

Meeting the conditions of entry is non-negotiable, and it’s essential that the entered work aligns with the prize purpose and assessment criteria. If you can do this, the work is eligible, and we encourage you to enter. While it might be interesting to know what’s been awarded a Eureka Prize in the past, it’s important to understand that work will be judged strictly against the assessment criteria – not past winners. So, if you’re scrolling through last year’s recipients on our website and making assumptions about the potential of your own work, stop!

Review the prize information – carefully

We know, it sounds obvious, but too often small but critical details are overlooked. Ensure that each entrant meets the requirements, the correct files have been uploaded, you’ve responded to each of the assessment criterion … you get the idea. Believe us – we have to do it a few times each year – advising an entrant that their submission’s ineligible is equally unpleasant for both parties. Don’t be the team leader who has to break bad news to colleagues because details were overlooked.

How you write your application matters

Yes, the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes is about rewarding excellence in science, but how you write your submission matters. So often we hear a judge make the comment “I know this work is competitive, but their application has let them down.” Make sure that your materials are prepared with prize purpose in mind and pay attention to exactly what is being asked of you via the assessment criteria and entry materials. While judges are authorities in their field, they might not be experts in your niche, so never assume they’ll understand what you mean without explanation. It also pays to be concise and specific, avoid jargon and acronyms, and have someone proof your entry.

Blue Carbon Horizons Team, winner of the 2019 NSW Environment, Energy and Science (DPIE) Eureka Prize for Environmental Research

The Blue Carbon Horizons Team has shown that the capacity of coastal wetlands to store carbon will substantially increase with sea level rise, providing a counter to global warming. The team was awarded the 2019 NSW Environment, Energy and Science (DPIE) Eureka Prize for Environmental Research.

Image: Salty Dingo
© Australian Museum

Strategically select your assessors

Assessor reports aren’t just auxiliary materials, they play an integral role in the judging process and should be prepared accordingly. One of the most common things that lets a submission down is entrants not approaching a broad enough mix of individuals. We strongly recommend that you branch out beyond your organisation, otherwise judges aren’t going to get the rounded and unbiased perspective they’re seeking. It’s also worth keeping in mind the most accessible person isn’t necessarily going to be the best placed to endorse your work, so going the extra mile could strengthen your entry and boost your chances of selection.

Communicate timelines clearly

We acknowledge that works takes place on a continuum, but it’s crucial that your submission concentrates on activity that’s taken place within time limitation specified for the prize you’re entering. Judges need to be confident that this condition of entry has been met, and can sometimes get nervous when timelines aren’t clear. Once you’ve prepared your materials, take the time to include dates and emphasise with bold text. While it’s expected that you might need to provide some context to the entered activity, you shouldn’t make this a focus as it won’t be formally considered by the judges.

Lindell Bromham, Xia Hua, Felicity Meakins, and Cassandra Algy - finalists, 2021 Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research

Felicity Meakins Cassandra Algy (pictured), along with their team members Lindell Bromham and Xia Hua, were awarded the 2021 Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research. Their research is developing new ways to understand the processes of language change and factors that help keep Indigenous languages strong and vibrant.

Image: Brenda L Croft 2015
© Brenda L Croft 2015

Don’t make assumptions about eligibility

You know your work better than anyone, however if you’ve reviewed the prize information and aren’t sure whether your work is eligible, reach out and we can review your circumstances together. True story: recently a prospective entrant contacted us because they weren’t confident their project met a requirement. After exchanging a few emails, we determined that the work was eligible; it was entered and eventually selected as the winner from a competitive pool of submissions. Don’t let assumption deprive you of a potential opportunity!

Provide evidence to support your claims

You need to communicate achievements effectively for them to be considered – and the panel can only consider what has been submitted for the purposes of each prize. One of the more common mistakes we observe during the judging process is a lack of specific examples to support claims. Even if you’ve received widespread media attention for your achievements, both you and your assessors will need to include evidence that demonstrates they’ve been delivered.

Pay attention to page limits

Another seemingly simple one, but you’d be surprised how many people overlook it. Page limits are in place to create an even playing field for entrants, to encourage you to communicate your work succinctly, and to ensure that judges can effectively assess each entry in a reasonable timeframe. Additional pages will be removed without exception before your entry is sent to the judging panel. We’ve done our best to communicate parameters clearly, but if you’re unsure, please play it safe and contact us for clarification.

Professor Justin J. Yerbury AM - Finalist, 2021 UNSW Eureka Prize for Scientific Research

Research led by Professor Justin J. Yerbury has demonstrated that protein deposits found in motor neurons, the pathological hallmark of MND, result from dysfunction in a process known as protein homeostasis. Professor Yerbury was selected as one of three finalists in the 2021 UNSW Eureka Prize for Scientific Research.

Image: University of Wollongong
© University of Wollongong

Don’t leave it until the last minute

Late submissions will not be accepted under any circumstances – so don’t do anything that might affect your ability to meet the deadline. Although the entry system is open for a few months, in a typical year more than 60 per cent of submissions come through in the last 36 hours. We’re consistently overwhelmed with requests for concessions which, in the interests of fairness, we decline without exception. Slow internet speeds, assessors who haven’t followed through, overlooked details, and problems with attachments are among the most widely cited and easily avoided reasons for not getting an entry in on time. You’ve been warned!

While there needs to be some ground rules, the last thing anyone wants is for you to feel utterly overwhelmed by the submission process. Refining your materials will take time and energy, however that extra effort won’t go unnoticed by the judges – in fact, you might be pleasantly surprised by the outcome!