Ben Barres Spotlight Awards: Applications open for 2021

This year’s awards are our most inclusive to date, offering funds of up to $6,000 to support the work of researchers from underrepresented backgrounds and countries with limited funding.
A light spotlight, shining through light smoke, colourised in purple

Note: The Ben Barres Spotlight Awards returned for 2022; find out more here.

At eLife we recognise that biases, both in research and society more generally, often serve to limit the career opportunities of researchers with certain backgrounds and identities. Now returning for a third year, the Ben Barres Spotlight Awards aim to help address that inequality by providing funds and visibility to researchers from groups that are underrepresented in biology and medicine or from countries with limited research funding.

Named in memory of our late colleague, transgender researcher and fervent advocate for equality in science, this year’s awards are our most inclusive to date. For 2021, researchers of all career stages are eligible to apply based on their country of work, disability, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or socioeconomic background. To show our support for researchers who have embraced new ways of publishing and reviewing research, the awards are, for the first time, also open to authors of refereed preprints with publicly available reviews in addition to eLife authors.

A distinct feature of this funding scheme is that we do not prescribe how the funds should be spent. Instead we invite applicants to tell us how the award would make the biggest difference to their research or career. This year the total budget has been increased to $60,000, and applicants can apply for individual awards of up to $6,000.

Successful applicants from 2019 and 2020 requested funds to support their research and careers in various ways. Winners have also reported benefiting from greater visibility following the announcement of their award.

Head and shoulders portrait of María Eugenia Segretin

2020 winner María Eugenia Segretin says: “Winning the award had an unexpected impact on the national media in Argentina, which gave me an amazing opportunity to bring attention to my work and its relevance for the country. It also gave me and my students the chance to access technologies that otherwise I would not be able to afford, opening doors to new research objectives and projects.”

Head and shoulders portrait of Ismail Uyanik

Ismail Uyanik also won in 2020 and used the funds to build a virtual reality setup for fish experiments. Now using it to collect data for an upcoming paper, Uyanik says: “This award was very important for me to balance the project budget due to the substantial devaluation of Turkish currency in recent years. I strongly suggest all eligible researchers apply for this prestigious award.”

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, we encourage applicants to consider how the funds could help address any barriers they face working remotely, or when networking, collaborating and communicating their work online. Also, as part of our wider efforts to encourage positive research culture reform and greater equity, diversity and inclusion in research, applications with a focus on making the recipient’s research more open, reproducible or inclusive are especially welcomed.

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 11:59pm anywhere in the world on Tuesday, October 12, 2021.

Terms and conditions of the Ben Barres Spotlight Awards 2021


Applicants must be:

  1. A 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.

** Please see specific exclusions below.

Available awards and application process

Awards of up to $6,000 (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 budget of $60,000 is distributed.

We aim to select ten 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 of 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 the 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.


We will not consider applications towards reimbursing costs that would have been incurred before the results of the funding round are published.

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

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

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

In accordance with the international economic sanctions, eLife is unable to transfer funds directly or indirectly (for example, via international bank accounts or third parties) to individuals based in the following locations: the Crimea region of Ukraine, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria. Researchers in countries where eLife is unable to transfer funds are welcome to apply provided that their request will not require any form of money transfer into the region; for example, requests for non-monetary support will still be considered. Any researchers who are unsure about their eligibility for these awards are invited to contact before making an application.

Judging process and criteria

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

Eligible applications will be reviewed by a committee 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 requested funds towards unlocking new opportunities for the candidate’s research and career. Specifically, reviewers may consider the extent to which the funds could promote the openness, reproducibility or inclusiveness of the recipient’s research, or increase the researcher’s prospects for national or international collaboration.

Priority will be given to high-scoring applications that:

  • Depend on the applicant getting this award
  • Minimise the potential for COVID-19 to disrupt the planned use of the award
  • Are from researchers with intersecting identities
  • Are from early-career group leaders
  • Are from researchers based in a low and lower middle-income country

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

  • The extent of the applicant's contribution to 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 Tuesday, October 12, 2021.

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 before the end of 2021.

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 November.

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

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.

Upon acceptance of the grant, recipients 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. Winners will be provided with specific instructions to follow in these various situations.

eLife also reserves the right to request evidence of expenses when they are made following receipt of the grant.

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


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