CAPTRS has launched a pathogen threat scenario writing contest, which will be part of their work to build a catalog of pathogen threat scenarios that will be used to hone pandemic preparedness strategies and train future decision makers.

Submissions may not exceed 2,500 words, and will be judged on creativity, plausibility of the pathogen threat, complexity of cascading societal factors, difficulty posed for current pandemic response capabilities and quality of writing.

The COVID-19 pandemic killed millions of people and wreaked social and economic havoc worldwide. The last three years revealed catastrophic deficiencies in our surveillance systems, pandemic playbooks, and ability to anticipate political, social and economic interdependencies that amplified the threat.

CAPTRS is tackling the failure of imagination that plagued our response to COVID-19. We are building a catalog of pathogen threat scenarios that will be used to hone pandemic preparedness strategies and train future decision makers. The catalog will include a wide range of plausible threats, including hypothetical pathogens and cascading global events, far beyond those we have experienced in the past. This is the first of three essay contests we will run in 2023. We will launch a contest this summer on the topic of critical infrastructure and supplies, and another contest in the fall on the topic of natural disasters, including wildfires and floods.

Essay Contest

This is where you come in! This contest is your opportunity to help the world prepare for future pandemic threats and to win a generous cash prize.

We invite you to submit an original essay, describing a pathogen threat scenario. Scenarios must include both a plausible pathogen emergence story and interdependent social, economic, political, environmental or technological forces that shape the unfolding threat. We hope to see variety in submissions and welcome essays focused on different points in the timeline of the threat emergence and spread. We also encourage you to use your own voice and style. The examples below are from a staff writer, and represent only one style.

Along with the essay, you must submit a one-page ground truth document which specifies that underlying characteristics of the pathogen, the human populations in which it is spreading, and the unfolding response that may not be explicitly stated in the essay.

We encourage you to look to science and social science in developing your narrative, while boldly thinking outside the box! You may optionally submit one of the following documents to support the plausibility of the scenario: a one-page description of background research, a one-page list of references, or a one-page letter of support from an expert in the field.

CAPTRS will award $25,000 in prizes!

First place – $10,000
Second place – $5,000 (up to 2 winners)
Third place – $1,000 (up to 5 winners)


Submission Timeline: Applications open May 1, 2023 at 12 a.m. and close July 31, 2023 at 11:59 p.m. You must create an account in Apply to submit your essay.

Website link: Essay Contests – CAPTRS

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