Welcome message from the CEO

Professor Sue Thomas

CEO Professor Sue Thomas

Image: Professor Sue Thomas.
Image courtesy: Norman Plant Photography.


I extend a warm welcome to another edition of ARChway, with my first message to you as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Australian Research Council (ARC). Now almost six months into the role, I am well and truly into the swing of regular business at the ARC.

Since my arrival, I have been out and about in the research sector, listening carefully and cementing my own ideas about the outlook for Australian research and the best ways that the ARC can provide support. Of course, it is not just about my vision, it is about working in partnership with our Minister and the research sector to achieve the best possible outcomes for Australian research and innovation.

I have now enjoyed several ARC events, with my first official event meeting our newest Australian Laureate Fellows. What a great introduction to the work of the ARC, highlighting some very distinguished researchers and hearing about their important research. I was honoured to congratulate each one personally and present them with their Australian Laureate Fellowship pins. You can read more about the work of one of our newest Australian Laureate Fellows, Professor Fedor Sukochev, below.

Yet another opportunity to be surrounded by fascinating stories of innovation, discovery and collaboration arose through the ARC Centres of Excellence Research Showcase, held at the Australian Parliament House in September. What a showcase this was; it was a fabulous opportunity extended to Centre research leaders to engage with Parliamentarians face-to-face, and demonstrate the fabulous research underway across a vast array of research disciplines. You can read more about the Research Showcase in our story included below.

I have also been thrilled (and very busy) over the past few months as I have attended launches of new ARC Centres of Excellence and Industrial Transformation Research Hubs and Training Centres—this has included, amongst others:

And, I had the pleasure of attending the 2017 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, where some of our fabulous ARC-funded researchers were recognised for their contribution to Australian research, knowledge and innovation—including Professor Jian Yang, who is featured in a story below. The Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science followed many other prizes and awards bestowed on ARC-funded researchers this year, including the Eureka Prizes—we feature another exciting researcher below, Associate Professor Bhaskaran, an ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) recipient, who was awarded the Macquarie University Eureka Prize for Outstanding Early Career Researcher.

Grants announcements

Since our last edition of ARChway, a number of National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP) schemes have been announced.

In November, the Minister for Education and Training, Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham, announced the outcomes of several ARC schemes: Discovery Projects ($225.6 million for 594 projects); Discovery Early Career Researcher Award ($70.9 million for 197 projects); Discovery Indigenous ($7.2 million for 13 projects); Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities ($28.6 million for 50 projects); and Linkage Learned Academies Special Projects ($1.1 million for 5 projects) schemes. Overall, it was a total of $333.5 million awarded to 859 new research projects.

As always, this includes support for a vast array of exciting new research, across many institutions and disciplines. I congratulate all recipients of these latest grants, and look forward to hearing about the tangible outcomes that Australia will derive from this research as it gets underway.

And, we continued to announce the outcomes of proposals submitted under the ARC Linkage Projects scheme. On 24 July, $1.2 million was announced to support two new collaborative research projects. This was followed on 3 October by the announcement of a further $4.3 million for another ten research projects to advance industry-research linkages. Just yesterday, we also announced $6.9 million to support an additional 16 new collaborative research Linkage Projects.

Engagement and Impact

I am also pleased to advise that in October we released our Engagement and Impact (EI) Pilot report.

The Engagement and Impact Assessment was first announced in December 2015 as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA), and the release of the pilot report marks a key milestone for this initiative. The aim of the assessment is to examine how universities are translating their research into economic, social and other benefits and encourage more collaboration between universities and research end-users.

In 2017, the ARC carried out a pilot exercise to test the methodology of the Engagement and Impact Assessment, in preparation for the first full Engagement and Impact Assessment in 2018 (EI 2018). This report summarises the findings from the EI Pilot, and proposes modifications to the methodology for EI 2018.

A key goal for the development of the EI Assessment was to make sure the methodology is robust and that it minimises the reporting burden for universities. I am confident we have achieved this. EI 2018 will assess engagement using an engagement narrative and a small suite of key quantitative indicators with an accompanying indicator explanatory statement. For impact, universities will use qualitative studies to show both the direct social, economic, environment and cultural impacts of their research, as well as what they are doing to translate research into these impacts. I would like to thank all participants in the pilot for their work and for their contribution to the development of the EI Assessment. The pilot could not have occurred without the strong cooperation of the university sector, and the participation of researchers and end-users.

Following the release of the pilot report we released draft EI 2018 Submission Guidelines for consultation. The consultation period closed on 17 November. The final EI 2018 Submission Guidelines were released on 6 December.

The EI Assessment will run as a companion exercise to ERA 2018. Further details about EI 2018 and ERA 2018 are available on the ARC website.

Communicating the benefits and outcomes of research

While on this theme of engagement and impact, a preliminary observation I have made since beginning in the role of ARC CEO is the need to improve how the research sector as a whole is communicating outcomes of publicly-funded research. Notwithstanding some great stories, we can improve how we demonstrate the importance and impact of publicly-funded research to the wider community. We need to communicate in language that is accessible to the general public—and at the ARC, this begins with clear and accessible proposal titles and summaries.

I am also asking the sector to tell the ARC about your great and easily understandable examples of research benefits from ARC-funded projects across all disciplines? As a microbiologist, I can talk about the discovery of penicillin and everyone gets that—so what are the comparable stories across all other disciplines. I look forward to receiving your excellent research outcomes stories (I know there are many out there) and meeting many more fantastic Australian researchers during my future travels throughout the sector in the New Year.

Looking ahead

On that note, I wish you all safe travels and an enjoyable holiday period and look forward to another productive year at the ARC in 2018. We have many activities on the horizon, including the new EI Assessment and ERA 2018 and, of course, many NCGP scheme rounds (with the 2020 round of ARC Centres of Excellence set to commence).