The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) invites you to participate in the
10th Annual DNA Day Essay Contest! The contest is open to students in grades 9-12.
The contest aims to challenge students to examine, question, and reflect on important concepts
in genetics. Essays are expected to contain substantive, well-reasoned arguments indicative of a depth of understanding of the concepts related to the essay question.
Essays are read and evaluated by several independent judges through three rounds of scoring.
Feb. 19 Update: Due to some confusion over this year's
essay question, we have clarified what is meant by
"phenomenon" in the question text below.
1st Place Winner:
$1,000 + $1,000 genetics materials grant for teacher
2nd Place Winner:
$600 + $600 genetics materials grant for teacher
3rd Place Winner:
$400 + $400 genetics materials grant for teacher
10 prizes of $100 each
In 1969, Jonathan Beckwith, James
Shapiro, and Lawrence Eron isolated the first gene, the Lac
Z gene from E.coli. At that time, genes were
thought to be discrete, contiguous segments of DNA that coded
for functional protein products. Using our current
understanding of how the human genome is structured and
regulated, and what products it can produce, choose a phenomenon
(a molecular process, structure, or product, not a disease) that
expands on the traditional definition of a gene.
Explain the phenomenon and provide three specific examples of it
in the human genome.
Essay Contest Rules
Essays will be accepted from high school
students (grades 9-12) in the US and
internationally. A teacher or
administrator must submit the essay
and authenticate that the submission is
the original work of the student.
Parents may submit the essays of
home-schooled students only. Only one
entry may be submitted for each student.
All essays must be
written in English
and are limited to 750 words,
including in-text citations. Essay
titles are optional and will be counted
towards the word limit. Reference lists
do not count toward the 750 word limit.
Each teacher may only submitsix
student essays per class, for up to
Essays must be submitted electronically
through the ASHG submission site no
later than 5:00 pm EST on March 6,
2015. The ASHG submission site will
open on January 14, 2015. Essays mailed, faxed, or emailed
to the Society will NOT be accepted.
Once submitted, essays cannot be changed
The text of student essays must be
original prose unless quotations are
explicitly noted. Plagiarism will
not be tolerated. If plagiarism is
suspected during any point of the contest, ASHG's Plagiarism
Review Board will examine the essay in question. Essays found to
contain the uncited work of others will
be disqualified, and the student’s
teacher will be notified. This
video from Carteret Community College
Library gives a great overview of what
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 for citing
There is no restriction on how many
references students may use. Quality of
references will be considered by judges
when scoring. General references such
as Wikipedia are considered low-quality,
whereas primary literature from research
is considered high-quality.
Only classroom teachers are eligible for
the equipment grant. Teachers of
first-place winners from 2012, 2013, and
2014 are not eligible for equipment
grants in 2015.
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 Web site, newsletter
or in other ASHG-supported publications.
References and citations (quality and appropriateness)
Total points possible:
Summarized below are some of the most common
issues judges flag in reading submitted essays.
Note that judges, rather than student essays,
are quoted below to obscure the identity of the
essay in reference.
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
Example: "Got the small
facts right and the big ones wrong."
Sweeping and grandiose
overstatements of the current/future state
and/or utility of biotechnology or
Example: "It's concerning
that this student believes gene therapy is a
'prevalent medical cure for deadly
Inaccuracy in technical
Example: "The student
confuses genes and alleles."
Description of phenomena or
advances with no explicit argument
connecting them to the question.
Example: "Student does
not link the discovery of the DNA
double-helix structure to the development of
microarrays, DNA fingerprinting, and probe
technology. The student simply describes all
four of these things."
Misunderstanding the nature of
a scientific advancement.
Example: "Cites Watson
and Crick as discovering DNA rather than the
structure of DNA."
Lack of in-text citations in
general, or lack of citations for
information that is not considered common
knowledge. In the latter case, students
often make wild, unsupported claims that may
be tempered if they must find references to
support their information.
Example: "Many good
references are listed but the information in
the essay has no citations - not even
information that is highly technical. Lack
of citations is inappropriate, leaving the
reader to surmise or guess at the source."
Using out-of-date references.
Scientific understandings change very
rapidly, and references that are more than
five years old are likely to espouse
Example: "One concern I
have with this essay (reason for rating
references low) is that a reference from
2001 is used. Genomic medicine changes so
rapidly that many publications from 2-3
years ago are outdated, never mind 12 years
Using too many quotes.
Although occasional use is warranted, too
many quotes lead judges to think the author
has no thoughts of their own.
Example: "Although this
essay is well-written, most of the essay
contains sentences directly quoted from the
references rather than the student
describing the facts in his/her own words. I
could not determine if the student
understood the content."