Funder may not announce 2021 grant awards before 2022 deadline

Australian researchers fear wasting weeks writing potentially pointless applications

February 7, 2020
Source: Alamy

Changes to an Australian grant scheme’s timetable risk forcing hundreds of newly qualified researchers to squander weeks or months writing potentially pointless funding submissions.

The Australian Research Council (ARC) has imposed a deadline of 11 November this year on applications for 2022 grants under the Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (Decra) scheme, even though the results of submissions for 2021 funding may not have been released by then.

This will leave researchers agonising over whether to invest time reapplying for funding that they may already have secured, or that they have negligible chances of winning because reviewers found their earlier proposals wanting.

The ARC said the timetable had been changed to split administration for its two biggest schemes – Decra and Discovery Projects – and to align Decra with the ARC’s other fellowship schemes. It said this would benefit researchers, and that it had consulted about the changes and delayed them by a year to give applicants more time to prepare.

But researchers face difficult decisions because the ARC has not specified when it will communicate advice of the results of the current round, saying only that this information is “anticipated” during the last quarter of 2020.

Decra attracts around 1,200 applications a year, with about 17 per cent proving successful. Michael Bowen, chair of the Australian Academy of Science’s Early and Mid-Career Researchers Forum, said hundreds of people could find themselves lodging redundant applications and many more would have the overlapping deadlines “hanging over them”.

Dr Bowen said people who already had very little job security were plagued by regular changes to application requirements that made it harder to plan their futures. “Many early career researchers are already working crazy hours juggling multiple deadlines. Some are in positions where their current employers aren’t necessarily open to them taking time out of their day. They’re having to work on their weekends, their holidays, late at night, very early in the morning, on top of everything else they have to juggle,” he said.

Dr Bowen, a brain researcher at the University of Sydney, said the ARC should commit to releasing the Decra 2021 results by a “known” date. “This is a glaring example where it can do something to avoid this issue,” he said.

The ARC said it had no plans to change the arrangements. “Applicants should carefully consider whether it is appropriate to submit another application, taking into account the stage of their career, and only apply when they consider they have the best chance of success,” the council said.

It stressed that researchers were limited to two Decra applications. But Dr Bowen said this exacerbated the pressure on applicants. “People are looking at this as a two-shot race. You’d want to be really certain that you’re timing those applications as well as possible,” he said.

A Melbourne researcher, who asked not to be named, said that many early career researchers would have no choice but to resubmit. “On past form, there is absolutely no way that the outcomes will be known before people are well into preparation for the next grant,” the researcher said.

“There’s a huge amount of wasted time there, not to mention the pressure that puts on research offices.”

He said the only solution was for the ARC to lodge grant recommendations with the education minister “much faster than they’ve been able to before”, with the minister committing to approving them immediately.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (2)

It has been the case for about 20 years that the ARC sets strict "internal" deadlines for finalisating the outcomes of its grant schemes. These are then forwarded as RECOMMENDATIONS to the office of the relevant Minister. The date on which the Minister announces their decision on the ARC Recommendations in not in the hands of the ARC.
That's true. However, the ARC now has the authority to tell researchers about the minister's decisions under embargo, which gives it a degree more control over the timing.

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