Ben Barres Spotlight Awards: Applications open for 2022

Reviewed Preprint authors from underrepresented backgrounds or from countries with limited funding can now apply for an award to support their research and career.
Illustration of four people standing in a spotlight and holding a trophy aloft

Note: The application deadline has now passed.

Now returning for a fourth year, the 2022 Ben Barres Spotlight Awards will provide visibility and funds of up to $5,000 to researchers from groups that are underrepresented in biology and medicine or from countries with limited research funding.

The awards are named in memory of our late colleague, transgender researcher and fervent advocate for equality in science. Like last year, the awards are open to both eligible authors of preprints with publicly available reviews (also known as “Reviewed Preprints” or “Refereed Preprints”) as well as authors published in eLife. Researchers of all career stages can be eligible to apply based on their country of work, disability, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or socioeconomic background as described below.

Over the past three years, successful applicants have requested funds for a variety of purposes to help them overcome barriers and unlock new opportunities for their research or career.

Jin Xu, 2020 Ben Barres Spotlight Award winner

Jin Xu was among the winners in 2020. Her award supported access to secure cloud-based storage services, enabling her lab to share data more easily and collaborate on a comprehensive molecular atlas of the blood-brain barrier. Xu adds, “I really appreciate the support from my award. It has not just provided funds but, as a new Principal Investigator, it has helped my career development too.”

Debra Bolter, 2021 Ben Barres Spotlight Award winner

Debra Bolter used her 2021 Ben Barres Spotlight Award to help foster collaborations between the next generation of South African researchers and undergraduates from traditionally underrepresented communities at Modesto Junior College, a Hispanic-serving institution in the United States. Bolter shares, “Winning the award provided both international recognition and legitimacy of this project’s goals at my local institution. The application process was very smooth, and it was certainly worth the time to apply.”

Shahed Nalla, 2021 Ben Barres Spotlight Award winner

2021 winner Shahed Nalla’s award funded a 3D printer that now provides students at the University of Johannesburg studying the evolution of hominids with access to otherwise inaccessible fossil specimens. Nalla says: “I was elated to receive this empowering award; its visibility coupled with the funding has also provided me with the opportunity to meet international partners and plan new engagements at a local and national level.”

This year, and as part of our wider efforts to encourage positive research culture reform, we especially welcome applications with a focus on making the recipient’s research more open, reproducible or inclusive.

To apply, please first review the terms and conditions outlined below, and then access the application form via the link at the bottom of this page.

If you need any accommodations to support you in making an application, please contact eLife’s Research Culture Manager, Stuart King, via Questions and comments are also welcome. Anonymous feedback may be shared via this form.

Applications are due by 5pm (GMT) on Tuesday, November 8, 2022.

Terms and conditions of the Ben Barres Spotlight Awards 2022


Applicants must be:

  1. An active researcher in the life or biomedical sciences at a university or other non-commercial research institute AND
  2. An author of a manuscript published or accepted for publication at eLife OR an author of a life sciences preprint with one or more evaluations from an eligible group on Sciety* AND
  3. A member of one or more of the following groups based on their background or identity:
  • Researchers based in countries where research funding is limited; emphasis is placed on those from low and middle-income nations**
  • Disabled researchers or researchers with disabilities
  • Researchers with ethnic minority backgrounds
  • Women; non-binary researchers and researchers of minority genders; transgender researchers of any gender
  • Researchers who belong to a minority group based on their sexual orientation
  • Researchers from working-class backgrounds or “first-generation” students

* Sciety is an application that aggregates public evaluations from preprint-reviewing groups like eLife, Review Commons, PREreview and others. Preprint servers that are currently supported include bioRxiv and medXiv. Please see exclusions below for groups that are not covered by this award scheme.

** eLife welcomes and will consider applications from all countries. There are, however, some territories where it will be difficult for us to transfer funds. We will explore all practical and legal options to allow any winners in these locations to still receive their awards. We note, however, that the timeframe for receiving funds will likely be delayed compared to what is described below under “After the grant is awarded”. Researchers based in countries subject to economic sanctions that would preclude direct transfers from the UK are also welcome to request funds for expenses that will not require a money transfer into the region. For example, requests could be made to cover conference registration fees in another country, online training or similar. Any researchers who are unsure about their eligibility or ability to receive funds are invited to contact eLife’s Research Culture Manager, Stuart King, via before making an application. Candidates who apply due to being based in a country where research funding is limited must have a current research affiliation within that same country.

Available awards and application process

Awards of up to $5,000 (USD) will be granted to assist researchers from groups that are underrepresented in biology and medicine or from countries with limited research funding (as indicated in the eligibility criteria above) until the entire budget is distributed.

We aim to select 10 winners. We may offer more awards if not all applicants request the maximum amount. We may also decide to offer fewer awards of the maximum prize in order to provide runner-up awards of a lesser value to a greater number of 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, if granted, will support a major improvement in their work. Applicants also need to provide a high-level budget for their proposed expenses under the award. (A PDF copy of the application form can be viewed here, to help applicants prepare their applications.)

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

  • Infrastructure, equipment, services or materials purchases, whether to support research or participation in virtual events or online communication;
  • Adaptations or equipment to make research workspaces more accessible or inclusive;
  • When and where it is safe to do so, travel expenses to conferences, study trips or other visits for the applicants, their group members or collaborators;
  • Meetings with specialist academic mentors to develop research proposals;
  • Temporary administrative or personal assistance, for example, to provide relief during preparation of grant applications or requests for disability support services
  • 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. In these circumstances, the applicant should make a request for no more than $5,000 (USD), and describe how the remaining costs will be covered in the “Purpose of the expenditure” section of the application form.


eLife will not consider applications received after the deadline, or submitted by previous recipients of a Ben Barres Spotlight Award or current eLife editors.

We will not accept requests in excess of $5,000 (USD), nor fund salaries for the candidate or another individual, stipends for students, or any other recurring costs under this scheme.

Requests to cover article processing charges or open-access publication fees will also not be accepted; details of eLife’s publication fee waiver policy can be found here.

Applications towards reimbursing costs that would have been incurred before January 1, 2023, are also excluded.

Evaluations provided by the automated screening tool ScreenIt are not considered to be public reviews for the purposes of this award scheme.

Judging process and criteria

eLife staff will screen the applications based on the eligibility criteria outlined above.

Eligible applications will be reviewed by panels formed of representatives of eLife editors, early-career advisors and staff. This review will be conducted anonymously, and the eligibility information will not be shared with the reviewers.

Reviewers will primarily focus on the catalytic potential of the funds towards overcoming barriers in and unlocking new opportunities for the applicant’s research and career. In addition, reviewers will consider the extent to which the funds could promote the openness, reproducibility or inclusiveness of the recipient’s research, or increase their prospects for collaboration.

Priority will be given to high-scoring applications that:

  • Depend on the applicant getting this award
  • Are from researchers with intersecting identities
  • Are from researchers based in a low and lower-middle-income country
  • Are from early-career group leaders

If necessary, final decisions may be further guided by the following criteria (in order):

  • The geographic diversity among the winners
  • The extent of the applicant's contribution to the published article or preprint
  • The recency of the applicant’s publication or preprint

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

The related privacy notice for applicants can be found here.

Application deadlines and communications

The application deadline is 5pm (GMT) on Tuesday, November 8, 2022.

We reserve three weeks (15 working days) for the decision-making process once reviewing has begun. Once the decisions are made, all applicants will be duly notified by email with the result.

Should there be any remaining funds after the successful applicants have been decided, we will reopen applications in early 2023.

Successful applicants will be asked for additional information to help with a public announcement of their award. A list of successful applications and information about any funds remaining will be posted on the eLife website in December.

Unsuccessful applicants are welcome to re-apply for the next deadline if their situation changes (for instance, if applying for funding for a different purpose).

After the grant is awarded

Upon acceptance of the grant, recipients acknowledge that they will organise an event or activity with time for an audience Q&A with an eLife editor or staff. The event or activity must take place between March 1 and October 31, 2023, though other details are open to negotiation. For example, winners may opt to give a research presentation hosted as a hybrid event based at their institution, or some other fully online event.

Recipients will also agree to report to eLife on the effect of the award on their research, career and community, and to acknowledge the award when publishing or presenting any work supported by the fund. eLife reserves the right to request evidence of expenses when they are made following receipt of the grant.

Winners will receive 70% of the total grant amount upon their acceptance of the award, with the remaining 30% made available following the successful delivery of the event stipulated above. Funds 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 in their accounts.

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


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