Images of Research Competition

Can you capture your research project in a single image? 

Applications for our 2023 competition are now closed. Please check this page again in 2024 for next year's competition!

As a Postgraduate, you are developing and honing your research skills at every stage of your course. U.K. Research and Innovation defines ‘research’ as:

Any form of disciplined inquiry that aims to contribute to a body of knowledge or theory.

You might be reading about what other academics and theorists have written about your subject, using their findings to uncover your own, or you might be doing practical research in a laboratory, exploring ideas through the creative arts, or undertaking a work placement to learn and reflect on your field.

You might be thinking about your Master’s dissertation, reflecting on your assignments, defining your PhD research or polishing your final doctoral thesis.

Research skills are incredibly valuable for any industry. They show that you are able to compare and analyse sources, think independently and creatively, and write up complex ideas into simple explanations and compelling arguments.

So, we want to challenge you! Can you express your dissertation topic, PhD research, doctoral thesis or PGT assignment in a single image?

The challenge

Images of Research (IoR) offers postgraduates across University of Birmingham the opportunity to showcase their research in a creative and innovative manner.

Postgraduate researchers (PGR) and postgraduate taught students (PGTs) are invited to submit an image and accompanying narrative that effectively engages and communicates your research to a non-specialist audience (i.e. someone who is not studying your subject).

For PGRs, we’re defining ‘research’ as any part of your thesis argument.

For PGTs, you can use your postgraduate dissertation, or a summative assignment from earlier in your PGT course.

Whether you are primarily researching your own findings, or using libraries and archives to evaluate the findings of others, your project is eligible if it forms part of a summative piece of work, postgraduate dissertation or doctoral thesis.

From your entries, the Images of Research team will decide on a set of Finalists. These Finalists will go to be judged by the team and in our Public Vote to win cash prizes. All finalist entries will furthermore go on display as part of the Postgraduate Research Festival, and all finalists invited to attend the festival for the final prize-giving, explore the other entries, and take part in the Public Vote.

Who can enter?

You can join the competition if you are a currently registered postgraduate researcher (PGR) or postgraduate taught student (PGT) at the University of Birmingham. ‘Currently registered’ means that you are currently undertaking your course, including PGRs in their write-up year. It includes postgraduates from any College, mode or year of study.

Postgraduate taught students are those undertaking the following postgraduate taught programmes: LLM, MA, MPH, Maths SKE, MBA, Med, MPA, MPH, MSc, PG Affiliate, PG Certificate, PG Dip Ed, PG Diploma, PGCE.

Postgraduate researchers are those undertaking the following research degrees: MPhil, MMus, MRes, MLitt, PhD, PhD with integrated study, EngD, DDS, MD, DD, Higher doctorates (DD, DEng, DLitt, DMus, DSc, LLD, DSocSc), Professional doctorates (ClinPsyD, EdD, ThD, EdPsychD, SocSciD, Foren.Psy.D, HScD, HScD(Clin), DBA, DPT, App.Ed and Child Psy.D).

How do I take part?

Applications for Images of Research 2023 closed on Sunday 14 May. For the 2024 competition, they will reopen in Spring 2024.

To enter, please submit your chosen image alongside your IoR application form which should include a short image title (max. 10 words) and image narrative (max. 110 words).

Before completing the application form and selecting your image, you should review the detailed submission requirements and guidance below.

Why should I enter?

This is a unique opportunity to raise your research profile ahead of job applications in industry or academia, PhD proposals, or post-doc fellowships, learn valuable skills in communicating your work to non-specialists, enhance your creative design skills, and engage a public audience.

If you’re heading into industry after your studies, the competition showcases your skills in research, design, communication, creativity, and distilling complex ideas into simple explanations.

IoR challenges you to consider your research and/or studies and how it can be creatively captured and communicated to a non-specialist audience. You can use IoR to work towards goals set on your Development Needs Analysis form as a PGR, towards your Postgraduate Professional Development Award as a PGT, or to set personal goals relating to creativity, self-management, engagement, communication and impact.

Plus, it’s a fantastic way to learn more about the exciting, innovative research being done across the University by postgraduates of all levels!

And read on to hear about our fantastic cash prizes...

How are entries judged?

The Images of Research team will select a shortlist of finalists to be put forward for our Images of Research awards, and displayed as part of the Postgraduate Research Festival.

This shortlist of finalists is then judged by the Images of Research team and a public vote for our Judge's Awards and People's Choice Awards.

The Judges' Choice awards and initial shortlisting are assessed by the Images of Research team against the following criteria equally:

  • Overall impact of image: To what extent does the image engage the viewer and make them want to know more about the research?
  • Relevance of the image to the supporting text: How effective is the supporting narrative in communicating the story behind the image to a non-specialist audience?
  • Creativity and originality To what extent does the submission as a whole (image and narrative) stand out as a polished, interesting and compelling submission?

The People's Choice vote will take place over the course of the Postgraduate Research Festival, 27-28 June 2023, in-person at the Festival and online. 


From our shortlist of Finalists, the Images of Research team and the People's Choice public vote will choose our winners:

  • Judges’ Winner: £150
  • Judges’ Runner Up: £75
  • Judges’ Runner Up: £75
  • People’s Choice Winner: £150
  • People’s Choice Runner Up: £75
  • People’s Choice Runner Up: £75

Applicant information and guidance

We highly recommend you review the below information before selecting your image and submitting your application. The submission requirements detail the minimum requirements in order to be considered for the shortlist of IoR. The submission guidance offers detailed advice and guidance to create a compelling entry.

Submission requirements

The submission requirements detail the minimum requirements in order to be considered for the shortlist of IoR. 

Applicant requirements

  • To apply you must be a postgraduate researcher or postgraduate taught student currently registered at the University of Birmingham.
  • Entrants are limited to one submission.

Image requirements

  • Image may be portrait or landscape.
  • Images can be a photograph, collage, or a digital drawing created by the researcher.
  • High resolution to allow for printing, the file should be as close to 300 dpi (dots per inch) at A3 size as you are able to achieve.  If taking a photo, set your camera to high resolution with no image compression. Mobile phone cameras are increasingly default set to low resolution; please check your settings before taking your photograph. Low quality images are unlikely to be shortlisted.
  • Images should be submitted in either jpeg or tiff format – no other file formats can be accepted.
  • Text can be used as part of the visual composition of the image but should not be added to describe or offer explanation of the image.
  • If submitting a digital collage, it is not permissible to use images downloaded from the Internet unless you have permission to use them. Only images which have been downloaded from bonafide royalty-free websites, such as Pixabay and Unsplash, may be used.
  • If submitting a photo, entrants must be the exclusive owners of the submitted image. Commissioned work such as professional photographs or photographs taken by someone other than the entrant are not allowed.
  • You must have written permission from any identifiable persons (or their legal guardians) contained within the image.

Image narrative requirements

  • Your image title should ideally be 2 - 5 words with a strict maximum of 10 words.
  • Your accompanying narrative should ideally be 80 - 100 words with a strict maximum of 110 words.
  • Your image narrative must give a description of your image and place it in the context of your research.
  • Your narrative must be accessible to a non-specialist audience.

Submission guidance

The submission guidance offers detailed advice and guidance to support you in creating a compelling entry. We also suggest some external resources that may support your entry.

When composing your image and supporting narrative it is useful to consider your entry from the perspective of a public audience. 

Image type and subject

Entries to the Images of Research exhibition can be a photograph, collage, or a digital drawing created by the entrant. The subject of your image has no limitations but should be visually striking and representative of an element of your research topic.

Your image subject might be a depiction of research data, a photograph of your research process, or even a staged composition that represents your research.

Do not be deterred if your research does not lend itself to literal interpretation: very few do, and we are looking for creativity! Your Image Narrative gives space to provide the context and connection to your research and demonstrate your innovative thinking.

You can see examples of effective entries from a range of disciplines below. At the bottom of this page you will also find links to the previous Images of Research competition entries that may give you some inspiration. Please note that these examples come from PGR students, before the competition was opened to PGTs, but the format is exactly the same.

Image composition

Consider an audience viewing an exhibition in an open gallery, your image needs to be engaging at a distance to stand out. It should catch the eye and encourage a viewer to investigate further. Compelling images come in many forms and may engage your audience for different reasons.

  • Your image may be aesthetically appealing such as a beautiful landscape, pleasing use of colour (mono, tonal or contrasting) and/or a well-considered image composition.
  • Your image may be compelling as it challenges the viewer, such as a new view of the familiar, a juxtaposition of ideas or an image that seems to communicate a complex story.

You are encouraged to be creative in your image composition: as you can see in our judging criteria, we’re looking for originality and impact. Your image narrative should provide some context and detail of your composition methods. 

Image title

If your image captures the attention of your audience effectively, the next visible element is the title. Your image title should either provide more insight, or more intrigue but should not attempt to provide an academic description of your research.

  • Your image title should ideally be 2 - 5 words (max. 10 words).
  • Try to make your image title compelling and intriguing, it should work alongside your image to capture the attention of a non-specialist audience.       
  • It could be simple, expressive, thought provoking or even pose a question.
  • It will differ from your working research title, which is aimed at a more specialist academic audience.

Image narrative

If your image and title are compelling, they will work as hooks to draw the audience in, providing you with an opportunity to engage them with your research. You should continue to keep the audience in mind though, asking yourself what they would want to know, as well as what you want to tell them.

You can start by explaining your image, describing what can be seen and how it was captured. Whether further description is required will be dependent on your image. For example, if your image is of scans you might include the type of imaging machine, details of the subject, or how they can be interpreted. If you have composed the picture yourself, your audience may want to know your methods (digital, mixed material) or perhaps your inspiration. If your image is a photograph, you might include where and when it was taken or what else was happening around you at the time.

You should then explain the link to your research, the research problem you are addressing and the potential impact of your research.

  • Your supporting narrative should ideally be 80 - 100 words (max. 110 words)
  • A focused supporting story that gives the context of your image and connects it with your research.
  • To help you get started, try drafting your narrative by writing one sentence to answer each of the questions below.
    • What does your image show/represent?
    • How/why was your image made?
    • What is the link to your research?
    • What is the fundamental problem your research is trying to address?
    • How will your research make a difference?

Further resources

Guidance created by Images of Research Team:

External guidance on communicating your research in images:

External guidance on creating great images:

Previous exhibitions

You can view the entries to previous Images of Research exhibitions below. Please note that the submission requirements and judging criteria changed before the 2022 competition.

Applications for our 2023 competition are now closed. Please check this page again in 2024 for next year's competition!



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