The Symbiont Awards
Celebrating the sharing of scientific data

The Symbionts

The Research Symbiont Awards, given annually, recognize exemplars in the practice of data sharing. It is a companion to the Research Parasite Awards.

There are two Research Symbiont Awards:

  • Early Career Clinical Research Symbiont Award: This award is restricted to early career symbiotic scientists (including but not restricted to postdocs, graduate students, or recently appointed principal investigators) working on human health.
  • General Symbiosis Award: This award is given to a scientist working in any field who has shared data beyond the expectations of their field. For example, we seek applications from symbiotic scientists working in sociology, ecology, astrophysics, or any other field of science.

The process for applying for an award is described below.

Award winners will receive a prize of up to $2,500 to be spent on conference registrations and or professional society membership fees. They will also be virtually recognized at the 2022 Pacific Symposium on Biocomputing (January 3-7, 2022). In addition, winners will receive a very cool stuffed animal.

Annual Sponsors

Wellcome Trust

Wellcome supports science to solve the urgent health challenges facing everyone. We support discovery research into life, health and wellbeing, and we’re taking on three worldwide health challenges: mental health, global heating and infectious diseases.

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Dragon Master Foundation

We're creating paradigm shifts in the fields of research and precision medicine. We want to promote a culture of collaboration, where patients are empowered to understand and use their data, and clinicians and researchers have access to the resources they need to conduct truly rigorous and valuable studies.

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  • The applicant must have created an openly shared scientific resource or dataset beyond typical standards of their field.
  • The sharing mechanism must be clearly permissible per all applicable ethical or legal restrictions, e.g., informed consent document.
  • The sharing mechanism must be as easy for people who wish to use the data as is feasible within ethical and legal constraints.
  • The dataset must be remarkable for its richness, granularity, and quality, such that it is inviting to people who wish to use the data.
  • If the dataset is an endeavor supported by a sponsor with a conflict of interest vis a vis the results, the applicant should explain how the sharing mechanism demonstrates independence from the sponsor. If there is no such conflict of interest, the applicant should say so.
  • Attention will be paid in the judging to whether the data were effectively re-used to answer questions not addressed in an initial publication reporting the dataset or data notification.
  • Additional consideration will be given to datasets with the clearest publicly available audit trail of decisions potentially affecting people who wish to use the data.

Additional criteria applicable only to the EARLY CAREER CLINICAL RESEARCH SYMBIONT AWARD:

  • The awardee must have contributed to the symbiotic resource during the training stage of their career (prior to any faculty rank, e.g., Instructor, Clinical Lecturer, or Assistant Professor). If the awardee has assumed a faculty rank, she or he should not have been in that position for more than 3 years.
  • The award will be based on the description of the resource in the application letter, inspection of the dataset’s website for its access policies, and the work achieved because of data sharing (as exemplified by the PDF of a manuscript submitted with the application letter).
  • The impact of the data sharing will be judged in part on the potential of secondary analyses to improve human health.

Additional selection criteria for the GENERAL SYMBIOSIS AWARD:

  • The awardee must be in an independent investigator position in academia, industry or public sector.

By submitting an application you agree that the decisions of the Research Symbiont Award Committee are final, and the Committee is unable to provide feedback on applications that were not selected.

How to Apply

We encourage readers to broadly share this call, and we strongly encourage members of groups that are underrepresented in scientific communities to apply for this award.

Applications for the 2022 Research Symbiont Awards must be received by December 5, 2021 at 5PM HST (Hawaii Standard Time) at Applicants can apply for themselves or nominate another person. Applicants should submit a concise letter (around 2 pages in letter or A4 format) describing the symbiotic resource. In particular, the letter should include:

  • A description of how the applicant meets the criteria for the award.
  • The URL of the resource’s website.
  • A description of why the resource represents an outstanding contribution to open science and secondary analyses.

Applicants are also encouraged to attach a PDF of an article that is not authored by the applicant and makes excellent use of the symbiotic resource.

The award winners will be recognized at the Pacific Symposium on Biocomputing each year and listed on the PSB website.

Example applications

  • Early Career Clinical Symbiont Research Award: a winning application from a previous edition can be downloaded here.
  • General Symbiosis Research Award: a winning nomination from a previous edition can be downloaded here.

Symbiont Selection Committee

The committee has sole responsibility for determining the recipient of the Symbiont Awards. As discussed in the conflict of interest rules, the committee and its individual members are unable to comment on any unselected nominations.

J. Brian Byrd


Amanda Haddock

Rebecca Riggins

Emma Hodcroft

Leonardo Collado-Torres

Award Recipients

Exemplars of research symbiosis.

Lukas Weber

2021 Junior Symbiont

Yong-Zhen Zhang and Edward Holmes

2021 General Symbionts

Alexander LeNail

2020 Junior Symbiont

Brian Bot

2020 General Symbiont

Leonardo Collado-Torres

2019 Junior Symbiont

Benjamin Mako Hill

2019 General Symbiont

Fabio Zanini

2018 Junior Symbiont

S K Morgan Ernest

2018 General Symbiont

Our Mission

As Isaac Newton wrote to Robert Hooke in 1675: “if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” The Symbiont Awards seek to honor modern giants.

Traditionally, data sharing was challenging and expensive, so research proceeded by sharing completed findings. Our culture in science and medicine has been built on the value of completed stories. However, with the rise of networked computers, sharing complex datasets is increasingly feasible. Once data are shared, anyone can make discoveries from these data. This is good, at least in the short term, for research. Discoveries arrive sooner, and patients benefit more quickly. Discoveries are also more likely to emerge when they are still meaningful, before new discoveries have rendered them less useful. But to avoid harm in the long term, we need to make sure that incentives are aligned to guarantee that generating novel and interesting datasets remains rewarded.

We envision a future in which widespread sharing of research data benefits all. We expect the biggest winners will be those who share and share well, and in doing so, create the most value. However, until that time comes, the Symbiont Awards seek to recognize these individuals and their contributions.

Symbiosis denotes a long-term interaction between two different species. The interaction may be beneficial to both or may impose a cost on a member of the interaction. Data sharing may impose a cost on the individual sharing, or it may provide benefits.

The Symbiont Awards, given annually, recognize exemplars in the practice of data sharing. We expect data sharing to play a key role in the scientific ecosystem. Some of the goals supported by data sharing include:

  1. Facilitate meta-analysis and other granular, between-study analyses, even if the investigators who currently curate the data deem the project too far outside their interests* to justify a sharing effort.
  2. Facilitate validation of emerging analytical approaches. For example, in a medical context (e.g., propensity score matching) via comparison to bona fide randomized data.
  3. Facilitate independent attempts to address existing hypotheses using existing data, which can reveal previously unknown sensitivity of prior analyses to methodological assumptions ("pressure-testing" of the robustness of hypotheses; sensitivity analysis)
  4. Facilitate the generation of novel hypotheses, leading researchers to perform new studies and generate new datasets.
  5. Unburden research teams from having to handle every incoming request for data.
  6. Broaden the impact of existing data, which are often generated at great time and expense.
  7. Facilitate the emergence of important research findings faster than any one team can act to produce the results either alone or in collaboration.
*fundamentally in the sense of “what they enjoy thinking about”, but also, rarely, in the financial sense. The question that seems esoteric to the original study team might be highly pertinent to health in another context.

The Symbiont Awards currently consist of two awards: the first recognizes an outstanding contribution from any research area at any level. The second seeks to recognize the sharing of data relevant to health by an individual at the training stage of their career — ideally a trainee with clinical responsibilities.

Conflict of Interest Rules

  1. PSB conference co-chairs do not serve as nominator or endorser for any nomination submitted for this award.
  2. Members of this award committee do not serve as a nominator for any nomination for this award. If you have nominated a candidate, inform the committee chair immediately so that one of two actions may be taken: (a) the nomination will be set aside for the year, or (b) you will step down from the committee for the year.
  3. Members of this committee should not be directly involved in nominations prior to their submittal. Members can answer general questions about what a nomination should include but may not pre-review or comment on draft nominations.
  4. Members must maintain confidentiality about the internal discussions of the committee. Information about committee deliberations should not be shared with anyone outside the committee, nor should the winner be discussed until PSB has issued a formal statement.
  5. Members of this committee and the committee as a whole do not provide feedback to unsuccessful candidates. If a member is asked for feedback, this policy should be cited.
  6. Members of this committee are not eligible to be nominated for the award during their time on the committee. Individuals in the research group of a committee member are also not eligible to be nominated for the award during that member’s time on the committee.
  7. Members of this committee must self-identify any relationships/affiliations that might be perceived as a source of potential bias, and inform the committee chair of the COIs before any candidates have been discussed. Identify any candidates with whom you: have had close personal or working relationships within the past 5 years or the period covered by the award, whichever is longer; anyone for whom you were thesis advisor/advisee; anyone for whom you were a postdoctoral advisor/advisee; anyone for whom you were a faculty mentor/mentee; or any other case where your judgment could be affected. Also identify any candidates from your current institution or one where you worked within the past 5 years.

In the event that a committee member has a relationship described in rule 7 with one or more nominees, s/he should disclose that relationship to the other committee members and describe the nature of the relationship(s). The other committee members should then decide (without the conflicted committee member) whether the conflict is adequately mitigated by disclosure. In the event that a majority of the other committee members believes the conflict is not adequately mitigated by disclosure, the following procedure should be followed: (1) The conflicted committee member may not participate in the discussion of the conflicted nominee; (2) If the non-conflicted committee members feel a conflicted nominee should be an awardee, then those committee members should send a written description of the conflict and the rationale for their decision to the PSB co-chairs; (3) if a majority of the PSB co-chairs believe the decision has been improperly biased by the conflict, the conflicted nominee cannot be the award winner, and the committee will be tasked with selecting a different awardee.