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National DNA Day commemorates the completion of the Human Genome Project in April 2003 and the discovery of the double helix of DNA in 1953. This year's DNA Day was Thursday, April 25, 2019.

This contest is open to students in grades 9-12 worldwide and asks students to examine, question, and reflect on important concepts in genetics. Essays are expected to be well-reasoned arguments indicative of a depth of understanding of the concepts related to the essay question. They are evaluated by ASHG members through three rounds of scoring


1st Place Winner:

$1,000 for student
$1,000 genetics materials grant

2nd Place Winner:

$600 for student
$600 genetics materials grant

3rd Place Winner:

$400 for student
$400 genetics materials grant

Honorable Mention: 10 student prizes of $100 each

2019 Question

Jonathan, age 50, has just been diagnosed with Huntington’s disease (HD). His genetic counselor, Karen, seeks Jonathan’s consent to disclose this diagnosis to his daughter, Sarah, who is 25. Jonathan refuses to allow Karen or anyone else on the medical staff to reveal this diagnosis to Sarah. (1) Present arguments for and against Jonathan's position by discussing the relevant goals, rights, and duties of each of the parties in this case. (2) Then choose one argument to defend, using your knowledge of the scientific and medical aspects of HD. This reading includes explanations of these three categories involved in making a difficult decision. Be certain to use your knowledge of the scientific and medical aspects of HD to support your views.

ASHG has put together a fact sheet explaining Huntington Disease to address any questions or misconceptions about the disease. Download, print, and share this document.


Ancestry testing is a form of direct-to-consumer genetic testing designed to inform customers about their genetic ancestry. There are generally three types of ancestry testing: Y chromosome testing, mitochondrial DNA testing, and autosomal DNA testing. If a person did all three ancestry tests, what types of information could they learn about their genetic ancestry and how does this genetic ancestry information compare and contrast with their cultural heritage (family traditions, etc.)?

Who May Enter

Essays that will be accepted must be submitted by a teacher and written by high school students (grades 9-12) in the U.S. and internationally.

How to Submit An Essay

  • A teacher or administrator must submit the essay and authenticate that submission is the original work of the student. A teacher's submission represents his/her authentication that the essays are the original work of the students.
  • Parents may only submit the essays of home-schooled students.
  • Only one entry may be submitted for each student.
  • Each teacher may only submit six student essays per class, for up to three classes.
  • Essays must be submitted electronically through the ASHG submission site no later than 5:00 pm Eastern Standard Time on March 8, 2019. Essays mailed, faxed, or emailed to the Society will NOT be accepted. Once submitted, essays cannot be changed or revised.

Essay Requirements

  • Essays must be the product of an individual student's work; group submissions are not permitted.
  • All essays must be written in English and are limited to 750 words. Word count includes in-text citations, but does not include reference lists.
  • Essay titles are optional and will be counted towards the word limit.
  • Word count is best determined by Microsoft Word's count. The submission page will give an official word count when submitters enter the essay.
  • Essays should not include a student's name.
  • Essays must include at least one reference. References must be clearly documented with both in-text citations and in the references list (the reference list should be separately entered into the "References" section of the submission page). Students may use either APA or MLA style citations. There is no restriction on how many references students may use. However, please keep in mind that students should avoid having too many references, as we want to know the student's opinion on the question and not the opinion of the student's sources.
  • Quality of references will be considered by judges when scoring.
    • Low quality sources = Wikipedia.
    • High quality sources = Research journals (for example, from PubMed)


Plagiarism will not be tolerated. The text of the student's essay must be his or her own words unless quotations are explicitly noted. If plagiarism is suspected during any point of the contest, the essay in question will be examined. Essays found to contain the uncited work of others will be disqualified and the student's teacher will be notified. gives a helpful explanation of what plagiarism is.


Prizes are listed above. Only classroom teachers are eligible for the equipment grant. Teachers of first-place winners from 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 are not eligible for equipment grants in 2019.

Judging Process and Rubric

The contest consists of three rounds of evaluation. Each round of judges is made up of ASHG members. Round 1 essays will be judged solely on whether or not they are of high enough quality. The chosen essays will move on to Round 2 and eventually a selected group will move on to Round 3. Judges in Rounds 2 and 3 will use the rubric below. Each essay in Rounds 1 and 2 will be reviewed by at least 3 judges.

Follow the rubric below to help craft your essay. Judges use this rubric to evaluate every essay in the second and third rounds of judging.


Overall accuracy of the science content


Use of evidence in support of an argument/answer; essay well-focused on the question/topic selected


Writing quality (clear thesis, composition, grammar, syntax, spelling)


References and citations (quality and appropriateness)


Total points possible:


Please Note

Text from essays may be used for research purposes to identify misconceptions, misunderstandings, and areas of student interest in genetics. Student text may be published on the ASHG website, newsletter, or in other ASHG-supported publications.


Does the 750 word count include images and their descriptions?

Are citations included in the word count?
In-text citations are included in the word count, but the reference list is not included.

Are headings/titles included in the word count?

Should everything be on one page or should references have a separate page?
The reference list will be submitted separately in the “references” section of the submission site. Everything will be included on one page once the essay is submitted.

Is there a standard font or margin size preferred?
No. Once the essay is copied and pasted into the submission site, it will be formatted to fit our standard margins and fonts.


Can I (a student) submit my essay myself?
Only teachers, administrators, or parents who teach their home-schooled child can submit an essay. While we encourage your current science teacher to submit your essay for you, your English teacher, another science teacher, or any other teacher who helped you can submit your essay.

What does it mean that only teachers can submit essays?
This means students cannot submit their essay themselves and must ask a teacher to do it for them. This is to encourage students to work with their teacher when they write their essay. Please keep in mind, though, that teachers of winners will receive a genetics materials grant and will be featured with the winning students in our announcements.

How do I submit my essay if a teacher cannot do it for me?
Try to find any other teacher who can submit for you. If this isn’t an option, please email us at

Can my guidance counselor submit my essay for me?

Can I submit for my student who is currently studying abroad?
The student must be studying at the same school as the teacher who submits their essay.

Can I change information after I have submitted?
No, please make sure all information is correct before submitting because it will be final.

How does the teacher vouch for the originality of the student’s work?
Your submission represents your authentication that the essays are the original work of your students.

I submitted late. Will my essay still be judged?
All late submissions will not be judged.

Where’s the confirmation email?
It may take some time for the email to get to you. If you haven’t received it by the end of the day, either check your junk mailbox or double check that the email address you provided is correct. If neither of those options work, email


Where do I find the link to volunteer as a judge?
The link was sent in the initial judge recruiting email.

What’s the judging deadline?
All judging deadlines are included in the email that was sent to you.

Can I forward this judging email to a colleague?
Please ONLY forward the judging email to colleagues who are members of ASHG.

Summarized below are some of the most common issues judges flag in reading submitted essays.

  1. Too much focus on details. A focus on details to the detriment of demonstrating a clear understanding of the big picture. Judges are much more forgiving of errors in details than errors in fundamental concepts and larger ideas.   
  2. Overstating. Sweeping and grandiose overstatements of the current/future state and/or utility of biotechnology or biomedical science. 
  3. Inaccuracy in technical language.
  4. Lack of in-text citations in general, or lack of citations for information that is not considered common knowledge.
  5. Using out-of-date references.  Scientific understandings change very rapidly, and references that are more than five years old are likely to espouse outdated ideas.
  6. Using too many quotes.  Although occasional use is warranted, too many quotes lead judges to think the author has no thoughts of their own.
2020 Essay Contest submissions will be accepted at the beginning of 2020.

Check out the links below for excerpts from past winners' essays!

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