Call for abstracts for student-led Best Idea 2021 Competition

We have launched the call for abstracts for our Best Idea 2021 Competition, giving student-led teams from our Members the chance to design and showcase their ideas on how science and technology contribute to sustainability.
2nd September 2020
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Are you, or do you know, a student or PhD candidate with a brilliant idea for how science and technology can help revolutionise our society’s efforts towards sustainability?

Then our Best Idea 2021 Competition is your opportunity to enter a team and benefit from unrivalled access and support from over 50 leading universities of science and technology across Europe, with the potential to win a cash prize of €20,000!

We are especially looking for concepts that have emerged (bottom-up) from student-led teams already collaborating around well identified scientific and societal needs and goals. Such a concept can originate from completely novel approaches to answer scientific questions or to respond to the need of specific stakeholders in society.

Diversity in teams, ideas and how you approach the competition is highly encouraged! To accommodate this, the competition is flexible and the evaluation and assessment will be carried out in two stages by an independent and diverse expert panel.

A Guide for Applicants containing all the information that you or your students need to apply and a template for abstract can be found on this page. We encourage you to forward the details of the competition to students and PhD candidates at your institution.

We organised an online information workshop on 15 October, where we presented the competition and provided an opportunity for potential entrants to ask questions to the organisers.

How to enter?

The students from our Members are encouraged to motivate inter-institutional, inter- and transdisciplinary and vertically integrated teams to enter this competition. The abstracts and the designed ideas will be evaluated along three dimensions:

  • Scientific excellence
  • Impact and outreach
  • Management and implementation

The deadline for submission of abstracts is 31 January 2021.

An independent Evaluation Panel will evaluate the abstracts and the successful teams will be invited to pursue their ideas under the guidance of the Workgroup Best Idea 2021 until summer 2021. During spring and summer 2021, the selected teams will be invited to contribute to a joint conference on this topic hosted by the Royal Academy of Engineering in London and to contribute to white papers on ´linking SSH and STEM´ and on ‘contribution to sustainability’.

By summer 2021, the selected teams must decide whether they wish to undergo a second assessment. The Evaluation Panel will assess the designed ideas, identify the excellent and mature ones and these teams will be invited to present their ideas to the CESAER Annual Meetings (CAM) in October 2021 in Lund (Sweden). A winner will be announced and obtain the prize Best Idea 2021 worth €20,000. Our association will provide support and guidance in showcasing these ideas.

The Competition Best Idea 2021 is a flagship event of CESAER as we celebrate the landmark of our association’s thirtieth anniversary year from October 2020 to October 2021.


Frequently Asked Questions

Do you want to enter our Best Idea 2021 Competition, but have a few questions? Have a read of our frequently asked questions that cover how to apply, how the competition is judged and more. This information will be constantly updated along the questions we receive from potential entrants.

Who can enter the competition?

We are looking for inter-institutional, inter- and transdisciplinary and vertically integrated teams that are already collaborating on a concept. Teams must be student-led. The leader of the team must be enrolled as a bachelor student, a master student or a PhD candidate at one of our Member universities (full list here) at the date of the submission of the abstract. Teams must include at least one member of staff (at the date of the submission of the abstract) from one of our Member universities (full list here).

How big can the team be?

There is no minimum or maximum team size.

How many Member universities of CESAER must be involved in the team?

At least one. However the more Member universities are involved in the team, the higher scoring in the evaluation.

Can students and staff from universities that are not Members of CESAER be involved in the team?

Yes, they can join teams that are led by a student from one of our Members. Please bear in mind that involving students and staff from several of our Member universities helps to achieve a higher score in the evaluation. Involving students and staff from non-Members can help involve complementary expertise into the team.

Can external, non-university partners join the team?

We encourage the teams to include external participants to be members of the team, this includes partners from industry, government, non-governmental organisations, civil society and similar.

We are a team of students. Is it mandatory to include a teacher in our team?

The team must be student-led, but the guidance by a principal investigator employed by one of our Members is highly recommended as it is one of the requirements for scientific excellence.

Can undergraduate students enter the competition?

Yes. Teams may include members at bachelor, master, PhD levels, guided by a principal investigator.

I am a student at a Member university looking for the team to join. Do you have any advice about where I should start?

If you are a student at one of our Member universities, you have 52 other universities in our network where you can look for teammates. Your university most probably already collaborates with other Members in our association. We advise you to liaise with our Institutional Liaison at your university to find out more about the existing collaborations and potential partners for this competition. You find them listed on our website.

How do we enter the competition?

To enter the competition, you are invited to use our template and prepare an abstract complying with the eligibility criteria and the Guide for Applicants and submit your abstract by the deadline of 31 January 2021 by 23:59 CET.

Please note that the student-leader of each team must inform our Advisor for Higher Education Indrė Antanavičiūtė by email to indre.antanaviciute@cesaer.org by 31 December 2020 at the latest about the intention to submit an abstract and announce the leaders´ full name, email address of one of our Members and course testifying enrolment at one of our Members. We will check if the student-leader is enrolled at one of our Members and notify you asap.

How should an abstract look like and how to submit it?

To prepare your abstract, you may only use the template, following the instructions provided and keeping the pre-set formatting. Make sure the abstract is no longer than 7 pages and has the required structure. When all the information is in a template and you have your abstract ready, submit it via email to indre.antanaviciute@cesaer.org.

When is the deadline to submit our abstract?

You have until 31 January 2021 to submit your abstract via email to indre.antanaviciute@cesaer.org and the competition closes at 23:59 CET on 31 January 2021.

Can we send a video with our abstract?

Yes, you can add a link to a video as supplementary information to the abstract.

What does the requirement to ‘main stakeholders are analysed and described’ mean?

To meet this criterion, you should identify the main stakeholders (e.g. industry, government, non-governmental organisations, civil society and similar) who have an interest in the idea, whose needs the idea responds to and who are crucial for the implementation of the outcome and impact of the idea. You should also briefly describe if and how the stakeholders are involved in the team or idea, and how the team will engage with stakeholders. For the abstract, this can be kept very brief (no extensive analysis is needed).

What does ‘horizontal integration’ mean? Does the abstract have to describe the social impact or actual development in the field of SSH?

Scientific excellence of the idea (which is one of the key dimensions along which the ideas will be evaluated) is not only about the excellence in STEM, but also about the excellence in SSH. Thus we encourage the teams to take an approach where SSH and STEM are on equal footing when developing the idea. Linking SSH with STEM will also help score higher on impact and outreach, as SSH can offer a broader perspective on legal, societal, ethical implications of technologies.

How should we demonstrate our idea’s contribution to sustainability?

The abstract must identify one or more areas of sustainability where it seeks to contribute. We use a broad and flexible approach to define sustainability based on the UN SDG. For example, contributions related to COVID-19 can identify UN SDG 3.

Must the idea we submit be new?

We are explicitly not looking for new ideas, but for concepts that have emerged (bottom-up) from student-led teams already collaborating around well identified scientific and societal needs and goals. We expect the the teams to develop their concepts towards designed ideas during the competition.

Should we refer to our published papers in the abstracts to support our application?

You need to demonstrate a sound scientific concept and scientific reference is, therefore, most helpful. However, your idea does not need to be published to enter the competition.

What Technology Readiness Level (TRL) is expected from the submitted ideas?

We are looking for ideas that offer creative solutions and many disruptive innovations are at a low TRL. Thus, there are no predefined expectations for the TRL of the ideas. However, we expect the teams to move their ideas towards implementation in the period between the evaluation of the abstract (winter 2020-2021) and the assessment of ideas (summer 2021).

Do we need a formal document from the university, testifying their support for our participation in the competition?

No such formal document is needed to enter the competition. However, it is important to make sure that the team will get professional support and help from your university, e.g. regarding intellectual property rights, communication and promotion throughout the competition.

What are the teams’ responsibilities after the abstract is submitted?

After the evaluation of the abstracts, our independent expert panel will give the teams recommendations and stimulate them to take follow-up actions. In the time between the evaluation and the assessment, the teams will have to further develop their ideas, make them excellent and mature and work towards implementation. During the assessment, the evaluators will judge to which degree the teams were successful. We highly recommend the teams to seek the support of their universities in this respect.

How will the submitted ideas be evaluated and the winner be decided?

In this competition, we take a two-stage evaluation and assessment approach. An independent expert panel will evaluate the abstracts. The successful teams will be invited to pursue their ideas under the guidance of the Workgroup Best Idea 2021 and advance the abstracts towards excellent and mature ideas until summer 2021. By summer 2021, the competing teams must decide whether they wish to undergo a second assessment. The expert panel will assess the designed ideas, identify the excellent and mature ones and select the winner.

What are the key criteria in the evaluation process that will determine our success in the competition?

Our independent expert panel will evaluate your abstracts along the requirements on the three dimensions listed in the Guide for Applicants and you need to score ‘high’ on all three dimensions to be successful.

There are some indicators related to the composition of the team that are crucial:

  • The more vertically integrated (i.e. the involvement of students at different levels (bachelor, master, PhD) in the team and guidance by the principal investigator), the higher the score;
  • The more horizontally integrated (i.e. the team is inter- and transdisciplinary, demonstrates linking SSH with STEM), the higher the score;
  • The more of our Member universities are involved, the higher the score.

How many ideas will be selected?

There is no prefixed number and it will solely depend on the quality of the submitted ideas. Only the abstracts that score high along all three dimensions in the evaluation will progress further.

What support will the teams get during and after the competition?

The teams selected after the first evaluation will get guidance, coaching and mentorship from mentors assigned to them. All teams who underwent a second assessment and were assessed excellent and mature will continue to receive support developed together with the team and tailored to their needs. These teams will also receive €1,000 for communication and outreach.

Representatives of selected teams will be invited to attend the CESAER Annual Meetings (CAM) hosted by Lund University from 13 to 15 October 2021 and showcase their ideas at the high-level conference. All travel and accommodation costs will be covered.

They will also be invited to contribute to a joint conference hosted by the Royal Academy of Engineering in London and to contribute to white papers developed by CESAER.

How many teams will be invited to the CESAER Annual Meetings in Lund in 2021?

There is no prefixed number. Representatives of all teams whose ideas are assessed excellent and mature in summer 2021 will be invited and supported to come and present them at the CAM in October 2021 in Lund (Sweden). Financial support for travel and accommodation costs to attend CAM will be made available to the representatives of the top teams to facilitate in-person participation. Online (digital) participation will also be possible.

When will the winner be announced?

We will announce the winner during the CAM in October 2021 in Lund (Sweden).

Who owns the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) resulting from the work of the teams participating in this competition?

It is completely up to the teams to determine how IPR are allocated. In fact, this concerns a major topic to address upfront as IPR are considered crucial to move from a good (scientific) concept towards a concrete solution contributing to sustainability. We advise all teams to liaise with the relevant departments within their university and encourage all universities to provide professional support to their teams in this respect. In any case, CESAER does never aspire to own any IPR resulting from the work of the teams participating in this competition.

How can I disseminate the competition in my institution?

Share the information within your institution, for example with the student services, student affairs, student union, and relevant departments and faculties. Consider holding an event within your institution to promote the call (we can help with this!). Use the dissemination toolkit within your institution and consider sharing it with your communications staff, the toolkit includes a promotional video, an image for use on social media, a sample message for social media and an A2 poster for display within your institution.

If you cannot find the answer to your question in these FAQs or the Guide for Applicants, please contact our Advisor for Higher Education at indre.antanaviciute@cesaer.org.

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