Ben Barres Spotlight Awards: Applications open for 2020

Applications are now open for this year’s Ben Barres Spotlight Awards, offering scientists from groups that are underrepresented in science up to $6,000 each to use to advance their research career.

Note: The Ben Barres Spotlight Awards returned for 2021; find out more here.

At eLife we believe that researchers should not be disadvantaged because of their gender, country of work, career stage, ethnicity or disability. Through these awards, we aim to support scientists from groups that are underrepresented in science to achieve their visibility and collaboration goals.

Following the success of last year’s pilot awards, we have increased the total budget this year to $50,000. We do not prescribe what the funds should be used for; we invite applicants to tell us how this award would make a difference to their work.

The award recipients in 2019 planned to use the awards for purchasing research equipment, infrastructure and materials, international research visits, and supporting travel to conferences.

Head and shoulder profile photo of Noelia Weisstaub

“I used the money awarded to buy equipment and reagents that otherwise we wouldn’t be able to obtain. We budgeted for these tools in our latest grant, but the devaluation of our currency together with the delay in the payment of the grants made it impossible to purchase them. The award was an unexpected source of funding to finally get them. As well as the funds, the award gave us a level of visibility unimaginable before.

With eLife behind the prize, my award was received as important, prestigious and competitive. It really helped our lab, together with the other winners of the award, to show the international community and our society that we, as women in Argentina, can do science that is competitive at an international level. The award also gave us the opportunity to talk publicly about equal opportunities and equal treatment in science.”

– Noelia Weisstaub, CONICET-Universidad Favaloro-INECO, Argentina, and Ben Barres Spotlight Award winner 2019

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, we also welcome applicants to consider how the funds could help address any barriers they face when networking, collaborating and communicating their work online.

All recipients of the awards will be asked to present their work (online, where possible) to increase the visibility of their research. In this way, we hope to send a positive signal that eLife supports and welcomes the work of groups that are underrepresented in science.

Head and shoulder profile photo of Camilo Aponte-Santamaría

“The award is an excellent opportunity for young underrepresented researchers to financially support their research, to gain visibility at the international level, and to strengthen their collaboration network.”
– Camilo Aponte-Santamaría, University of Los Andes, Colombia, and Ben Barres Spotlight Award winner 2019

To apply, please first review the terms and conditions outlined below and follow the link to submit your application.

Applications are due by 11:59pm anywhere in the world on Monday, October 5, 2020.

Head and shoulder profile photo of Ben Barres

The awards are named after Ben Barres, our late colleague and former Reviewing Editor at eLife. During his time at eLife, we benefited enormously from his scientific expertise. By naming the fund after him we wish to pay tribute to him not only as an outstanding scientist but primarily as an advocate for young scientists, women and researchers of diverse backgrounds.

(Image courtesy of Stanford University School of Medicine, US.)

Terms and conditions of the Ben Barres Spotlight Awards 2020


Applicants must be:

  1. Independent researchers – scientists who have secured funding to support a research group, for example in a Group Leader, Principal Investigator or Assistant Professor position – pursuing their research in the life sciences or biomedicine in a non-commercial research institute, and
  2. An author of a manuscript published or accepted for publication at eLife, and
  3. Members of any of the groups listed below, which are addressed by this fund:
  • Researchers currently based in countries where resources are limited; emphasis is placed on those from low and middle-income nations
  • Early-career researchers who have no more than five years of active research experience in an independent position (health-related or parental leave, for example, are not considered active research experience)
  • Women, non-binary or transgender researchers (those who identify with a gender that is different from the sex assigned at birth)
  • Ethnic minorities
  • Researchers with disabilities

Available awards

Awards of up to $6,000 will be granted to assist researchers from groups that are underrepresented in the scientific workforce (as indicated in the eligibility criteria above) until the budget of $50,000 is distributed (we will retain some funds to cover any event support we expect to be requested by recipients). We aim to select eight winners, and we may decide to offer fewer awards of the maximum prize in order to provide runner-up awards of a lesser value to more applicants.

Awards will be made for research in any area of the life sciences and biomedicine covered by the eLife journal.

eLife does not specify the purpose for the awards. We simply invite candidates to explain their requirements and describe how the money will support a major improvement in their work, if granted.

Examples of acceptable requests include, but are not limited to:

  • Infrastructure, equipment or materials purchases, whether for research or to support participation in virtual events and online communications;
  • (When it is safe to do so) travel to conferences, study trips for the applicants or members of their group, supporting a visit by another scholar for training or mentoring;
  • Setting up meetings to develop research proposals with specialist academic mentors;
  • Support towards childcare or other care costs to enable, for example, working from home, conference attendance, or a visit to another lab.

Part-funding is acceptable, for example, you may have some funds available for a purpose, but not enough, and this award would complete that requirement.


We will not consider applications towards reimbursing costs that would have been incurred before the results of the funding round are published. Namely, we will not accept applications where costs are incurred on or before October 19, 2020.

We will not fund salaries or other recurring costs under this scheme.

We will not consider applications from previous recipients of the award.

Judging process and criteria

Funds will be awarded based on the extent to which they will help the recipients and their work.

Awards will be granted by a committee formed of representatives of eLife staff, editors and members of the Early-Career Advisory Group (ECAG). Applications will be prioritised based on the scale of change expected from the award: reviewers will focus on the catalytic potential for unlocking new opportunities for the candidate’s research. The judgement may be further guided based on:

  • Adversity factors faced by the applicant
  • The extent of the applicant's contribution to research published at eLife
  • Recency of the applicant’s publication at eLife

We reserve the right to make changes and further clarify these criteria as the programme progresses.

Application deadlines and communications

Once reviewed, any unsuccessful applications are removed from the pool under consideration, and the candidates will be notified. Unsuccessful applicants are welcome to apply again by the following available deadline if their situation changes (for instance, if applying for funding for a different purpose).

The related privacy notice for applicants can be found here

The application deadline has been extended to October 5, to enable more researchers to apply. We reserve two weeks (10 working days) for the decision-making process once reviewing has begun.

Should there be any remaining funds after the successful applicants have been decided, we may open another round of applications before the end of 2020.

A list of successful applications and information about any funds remaining will be posted on the eLife website, once the decisions are made, and all applicants will be duly notified.

After the grant is awarded

The total grant amount will be sent to the recipient's account by a wire transfer based on the information they provide via a claim form. All applicants should be aware that, from the point when they provide their details for an international bank transfer, it may take up to 30 days for the funds to arrive into their accounts.

The awardees will need to provide a high-level budget for their expenses under the award during the application process. eLife reserves the right to request evidence of those expenses when they are made following receipt of the grant.

eLife will contact applicants by email with the result of their application and, where relevant, request additional information to help with a public announcement of their award.

Upon acceptance of the grant, recipients acknowledge that they will be obliged to organise a presentation of their work, either at their institution or a relevant scientific event. At their presentation, awardees will allow time for a Q&A with eLife to offer participants an opportunity to learn more about our commitment to improving the culture of science communication. Modest additional funds of up to $350 can be made available by eLife for catering purposes for any in-person event or to support virtual event attendance – we plan to offer funds based on reasonable support needs and available quotes, as agreed on a case-by-case basis.

Awardees will report to eLife:

  • Feedback from their presentation
  • The effect of the award on their research
  • Evidence of costs incurred as presented in their application

The application deadline has now passed, you can no longer apply via the form.

Note: the Ben Barres Spotlight Award run by eLife is not related to the Ben Barres Fellowship advertised by the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals (NOGLSTP, US).


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