Essay Prize 2019

The Robinson College Essay Prize is open to all students currently in Year 12 (Lower Sixth, or equivalent) at a UK School. It is designed to give students the opportunity to develop and showcase their independent study and writing skills. By creating the opportunity for students to experience the type of work that they might be expected to do at Cambridge, we hope to encourage inquisitive and industrious students from all backgrounds to apply to the university – and hopefully to Robinson College.

We welcome entries from interested students studying any combination of subjects. Entrants are invited to submit a response to any one of the questions below, which should be no longer than 2,000 words (including footnotes and captions).  The questions may be discussed with reference to any academic discipline or area of interest. All sources must be appropriately acknowledged and cited, and a bibliography (including websites consulted) should be attached, although this is excluded from the word count. Up to three entries may be submitted per school, so please discuss your application with your school prior to entry.

There are many angles from which to approach the questions and we encourage applicants to ‘think outside the box’ and answer through the lens of a field or subject that greatly interests you.  Good essays will present a clear and concise argument using specific examples, but beyond this there is scope to interrogate the questions in any way you please.

Three prizes will be awarded, each person receiving book tokens to the value of £100. Further essays will be commended for their high quality. Winning and highly commended entrants will be invited to the College for a prize-giving ceremony and celebratory lunch with fellows and Directors of Studies at the college.

The deadline for submiss ion of essays is 5pm, Friday 16th August. All entries should be sent via the online submission form below where you will be asked to upload a pdf/ word document of your essay and your completed covering sheet. The covering sheet can be found below -  Please ensure that your school/ college representative completes the appropriate section. Entries will not be valid without this information.

Essay Prize Competition Submission Form

General Cover Letter 

Essay Prize General Information



Essay Questions:

Discuss, with reference to any academic discipline, any area of interest raised by one of the following



1. "The essence of politics is conflict.” Do you agree? 

2. In which circumstances, if any, should it be permissible to ban art or literature on grounds of offence?

3. Do you think scientists should be guided by politicians or should they be free to research as they see fit? 

4. ”For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (Shakespeare, Hamlet). If Hamlet is correct, what are the implications? 

5. “The climate change crisis will only be solved by technology. Changes to behaviour will make a marginal difference at best.” Discuss. 



Essay Prize 2018 Winners and Highly Commended:


Taimur Munir

Taimur has done an excellent job in assembling a large amount of information and supporting examples without sacrificing readability.  He has drawn on anthropology, history and science to produce a fascinating account of the triumphs and mistakes of agriculture throughout its evolution. The essay take a mainly historical perspective but its arguments deserve serious consideration by contemporary policy-makers.

Alex Kingston

Alex has produced an essay of high quality backed up by high quality resources and some wide ranging research.  An impressive range of topics is considered ranging from natural selection to ecological inheritance to niche construction.  With recent progress in gene drives, as Alex says, we now possess the ability to wipe entire species off the planet with clinical efficiency.  We will soon be able to control our evolution and as Alex concludes, the challenge is to determine whether this would be ethical.

Ahana Kamerkar

Ahana showed a remarkably wide and balanced knowledge of nuclear power, the world’s energy needs and the views of scientists and organisations who are proponents and opponents of nuclear power.   Ahana draws attention to the developments in nuclear plants including the early stage thorium based ones that should produce less waste.  The essay considers the relative impact on the environment of fossil fuel emissions and nuclear waste.  As Ahana says, nuclear may sound like a daunting prospect now, but we do not have the luxury of time and nuclear power therefore is the answer.

Highly Commended

Isaac Ray

This is an impressive response that explores John Cage’s work in response to the quotation from Rowan Williams in the title. Timing and indeterminacy are fascinating concepts and the essay explores these issues with subtlety and nuance. An impressively wide range of materials have been consulted and the essay does sustain an argument in response to the title. This is a successful piece of work.

Abigail Scriveebecke

This essay focuses on Tennessee Williams’ play, A Streetcar Named Desire, whilst also engaging with the nuance and complexity of the statement made by Rowan Williams in the quotation. The essay is well-written and subtle, while also consulting a useful range of critical material. There is a clear and well-sustained argument that elucidates both the play and the questions posed by the title.

Nathan Callanan

This a lively, thoughtful and engaging response. Nathan asks some big and important questions (“What is popular culture?”), though struggles at times to provide answers. There is certainly an impressive eloquence to this essay, which covers an impressive range whilst retaining a core argumentative focus. There is a real sense that the author is thinking through the issues at stake.

Charlotte McCarron

Charlotte's essay is remarkable for its breadth of coverage, attention to detail and use of evidence. It carefully considers the likely costs and benefits of early agriculture and selects highly relevant examples from significant historical periods to support her argument. The argument is balanced, but the facts weighted appropriately to produce some firm conclusions. The essay is also beautifully written.

Rahul Shah

Rahul’s essay is well researched and covers a considerable breadth.  The quality of writing is excellent.  The scene is set with a description of the various ways that allele frequency can be altered in a population.  Some interesting examples of relatively recent natural selection in human evolution resulting from disease or environmental pressure are described, but Rahul says it is possible that natural selection may cease.  On the other hand, the prospect of deadly virus diseases mutating to forms that are more infectious is real, and natural selection of small numbers of individuals with resistance is a frightening possibility.  The essay considers gene-therapy and germline gene editing, the latter, as Rahul concludes, is currently an unpredictable and dangerous process that would put us firmly in control of the evolution of our species.

Raoul Pullela

Raoul took an original approach to the essay question.   The essay reminds us that Humans have strived and still strive to pick good and healthy mates and that eugenics and transhumanism offer further approaches to controlling evolution.  The consideration of eugenics is detailed, well informed and commendably objective.  Fortunately, to use Raoul’s words, eugenic policy has numerous ethical problems.  Raoul concludes that we have passively and actively controlled our evolution for hundreds of thousands of years and could in the near future edit our genome and dictate our evolution.

May Davis

May’s essay is a balanced account of the strengths and weaknesses of nuclear power.  It is splendidly pragmatic and shows a good understanding and knowledge of the complex political and environmental issues that are debated by proponents and opponents of nuclear power.  As May says, the costs or nuclear power are huge, public perception of risks is problematic, and the industry is vulnerable to political change.  However, the inescapable conclusion is that a departure from reliance on fossil fuels is vital and in the medium term renewables plus nuclear might be the answer.

Lily Blair-Slater

Lily’s essay is compelling, well researched and thought provoking.   The power of images to rewrite history, to shock, to mislead and to influence are illustrated with well-chosen examples.  An otherwise identical photograph of Stalin with and without Yezhov is a fascinating example.  We are led inexorably to the bold and compelling conclusion that we should dismiss images in most cases unless there is additional supporting non-visual information.

Daisy Murphy

Daisy’s essay shows a deep, thorough knowledge of image taken from several historical periods and from a wide range of media from tapestry to cartoons to photographs.   Highly relevant examples describe how images can be a manifestation of the intentions of their commissioner and the intentions of their creator, and how restoration and deliberate retouching can (sometimes deliberately) change their meaning and purpose.  The conclusion that images should be approached with suspicion is inevitable and convincing.