28 February 2015 

ARC CEO Professor Aidan Byrne

Image courtesy: Photography by Norman Plant.


Welcome to the first edition of ARChway for 2014. It has  been a very busy start to the year for all at the ARC and those in the sector.

Earlier this year Australian Quarterly published a special 85th  anniversary edition titled The Great Grant Debate: The future of Australian Research. This  edition featured a range of views on the Australian research landscape from  those in the sector, including the Australian Chief Scientist, Professor Ian  Chubb, and NHMRC CEO, Professor Warwick Anderson. I also contributed to the  magazine in an article titled What is Success? We have included the text of that article in this edition of ARChway for you as it articulates a number of my views regarding topical  subjects such as success rates, longer grant durations and public calls for  more research funding.

I touched on a number of these  subjects at the Universities Australia conference in Canberra this week. I was  asked to think about the research sector in 2030—only 16 years into the future, yet many things can change in that time. In considering how the system has evolved over the last few decades it is interesting to note that, although there has been  some movement of individual institutions, the overall pattern is remarkably  stable.  

While it is important to have sufficient money available to support research it is also important that we  have appropriately targeted programs. One ARC scheme that I think has been particularly successful is our Centres of Excellence and the ARC is coordinating a meeting  of the leaders of these Centres in March in order to share experiences and  increase effectiveness. 

The Centres of Excellence, provide  substantial funding over several years, to allow for serious and complex challenges to be addressed. They are fundamental to the research  landscape, providing significant training for the next generation of researchers, and are hubs of information  from which the entire community can benefit. They also have the capacity to  develop multidisciplinary research teams which may not otherwise develop in a  smaller grant framework.

On the home front at the ARC it has been an active period  with scheme rounds. In January proposals opened for Australian Laureate Fellowships and a second round of Industrial Transformation Research Hubs. These application periods closed this week. Applications also opened in January for Discovery Projects, with Discovery Early Career Research AwardDiscovery Indigenous and Linkage Infrastructure Equipment and  Facilities schemes all opening for applications in February.

And while it has been busy on the competitive grants side,  it has also been busy in terms of research excellence, with work well and truly  progressing on ERA 2015. Sector feedback has been sought on the submission documentation for  ERA 2015 and consultation is still open on the Draft Journal and Conference Lists.

Today we have released the ERA 2015 Reference Periods, including the Census Date, which will be 31 March 2014. More  information can be found in the ERA 2015 update in this edition of ARChway or  on the ARC website.

This week the ARC also released a revised version of the  ARC’s Research Opportunity Performance Evaluation (ROPE) Statement.

ROPE was first introduced under the Discovery Projects scheme for funding commencing in 2011 and  subsequently under all other schemes. It replaced the selection criterion of  ‘track record relative to opportunities’. ROPE was introduced to help provide a  more realistic consideration of a researcher’s capabilities and assist those  who have had career interruptions for family and other reasons.

ROPE aims to ensure the assessment processes accurately  evaluate an Investigator’s career history relative to their current career  stage, and considers whether their productivity and contribution is  commensurate with the opportunities that have been available to them. It also  provides a framework within which the quality and benefit of achievements is  given more weight than the quantity or rate of particular achievements. It  considers working arrangements, career histories and personal circumstances and  provides an acknowledgement of research performance given the opportunities  available.

The revised version does not contain substantial changes  from our principles first articulated in 2011, however, it is very important  that all researchers, and particularly all assessors, fully understand these  principles.

On a broader scale, the ARC is committed to broadening its  reach globally. As part of the ARC’s Strategic Plan for 2013­–14 to 2015–16 the  ARC committed to reviewing its international strategy. One of the goals of the  review was to improve the visibility and effectiveness of ARC support for  international collaboration within NCGP funding schemes, and as such we have  now published new International pages on our website, which I encourage you to visit. Here you  will find information about the ARC’s international strategy, collaboration,  engagement and information for international researchers.

In this edition of ARChway you will find  some interesting research outcome feature articles from ARC-funded projects.  Features this time include: a new smart phone application that is gathering  valuable information about meteorites from amateur sky-spotters; how the  humble fishing line can be used to produce ‘muscles’ with super-human strength;  a new occurrence of diamond which has been discovered in Antarctica; and how  one of our Future Fellows is to using the pictorial past to shape our future.

Happy reading!