Welcome message from the CEO

Professor Sue Thomas

Welcome to our first ARChway newsletter for 2018. We have certainly kicked off the new year in style, with ARC-funded researchers receiving high-profile recognition in the 2018 Australian of the Year Awards.

Current ARC Australian Laureate Fellow, Professor Michelle Simmons, was honoured as 2018 Australian of the Year for her pioneering research and research leadership. Together with her team at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Quantum Computation and Communication Technology (CQC2T) at The University of New South Wales, Professor Simmons is working in earnest to develop a revolutionary quantum computer.

2018 Senior Australian of the Year was awarded to Professor Graham Farquhar AO, a biophysicist based at The Australian National University. Professor Farquhar has received over $2 million in ARC funding throughout his career to support his research into food security. Professor Farquhar received this worthy recognition for his outstanding accomplishments in plant biophysics and photosynthesis that have delivered practical benefits to the agricultural sector.

And to top it off, many other ARC-funded researchers and fellows were named on the Australia Day 2018 Honours List—recognised for their valuable contributions to Australian research and innovation. While it is no surprise to any of us at the ARC that so many researchers are included in these awards each year, it illustrates just how much of an impact their work is making, and the tremendous value the Australian community places on research.

Two more examples of outstanding research feature in this edition of ARChway: ARC Future Fellow, Professor Timothy Bayne at Monash University is making great strides in bridging the gap between neuroscience and philosophy regarding consciousness; and ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher, Dr Melanie Randle from the University of Wollongong, is working closely with non-profit and government organisations to increase the number of foster care placements through new marketing and recruitment strategies.

Of course, to ensure that this abundant and varied research keeps on rolling out, we at the ARC must continue the job of delivering and administering research project funding! So, I am pleased that we have already had two funding scheme announcements this year, with Linkage Projects scheme funding of $11.1 million so far awarded to 28 recipients across a variety of industry collaborations—with announcements on 5 February and 26 February 2018. Funded research projects included collaborations to develop 3D-printed materials for the vision impaired, harness biofuel energy from our sugar industry, and progress innovations in advanced composite paints, to name just a few.

ERA and EI 2018

Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) 2018 is now open for submissions, and our Engagement and Impact Assessment (EI) will open soon. Last week, I was pleased to announce the appointment of our eight Research Evaluation Committee (REC) Chairs who will perform a key role in the 2018 round of ERA—the Engagement and Impact Chairs and full ERA and EI Committee lists will be announced soon. 

In an article in this edition of ARChway, we explore more about ERA and EI. The increased accountability and transparency provided by both of these evaluations will allow the community to better understand the benefits of Australian public research funding and provide clarity to the Australian Government about how public investment in university research translates into tangible benefits. Together, ERA and EI will support better-informed government policy-making and provide a framework to drive future policy discussions about research quality, engagement and impact.

Supporting a diverse research workforce

I would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm the ARC’s commitment to a strong, sustainable and diverse research workforce. We are very supportive of all researchers, and have dedicated policies and strategies in place to support research workplace diversity. The ARC is particularly committed to ensuring that all eligible researchers—irrespective of gender—have fair access to competitive research funding through the National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP).

The ARC monitors NCGP outcomes and processes to ensure there is no unintentional bias in its assessment processes. The ARC publishes gender data, broken down across ARC schemes, disciplines and career age, on our website. In the most recent NCGP selection rounds, the success rate for females was comparable to males across the majority of schemes. However, the participation rates of female researchers remains lower than that of male researchers. The ARC will continue to monitor and raise awareness with universities in this area.

We also recognise our leadership role in Australia to continuously look for strategies to improve gender diversity in academia, and the ARC has a number of overarching policies and statements. Through these polices, the ARC has many mechanisms in place to support research workforce diversity and to support researchers who have had academic interruptions in applying and receiving grants:

  • provision for paid maternity and parental leave
  • unpaid leave and part-time work
  • specific fellowships for outstanding women researchers
  • extending eligibility periods to take into consideration career interruptions for parental and caring responsibilities
  • selection criteria that take into consideration career interruptions for parental and caring responsibilities.

The ARC also continues to strive to improve the gender balance of membership on our NCGP selection committees and has implemented unconscious bias training for assessors.

Looking ahead

The first selection round of our Special Research Initiative, the Per- And Poly-Fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Remediation Research Program, opened for proposals in December 2017, and closed on 28 February 2018. An announcement for the PFAS Special Research Initiative is anticipated mid-year.

In the ARC Centres of Excellence space, the ARC has commenced work on the next ARC Centres of Excellence 2020 round (yes, it is indeed approaching!). In 2017, the ARC funded nine Centres of Excellence for a total of $283.5 million for vital research collaborations in areas of national priority. We expect to call for Expressions of Interest in the middle of this year for new Centres of Excellence.

To facilitate 2020 Centre of Excellence proposals, the Australian Academy of the Humanities; the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia and the Australian Academy of Science—supported by the ARC—have hosted workshops covering information about the application process, right through to busting some common myths and misconceptions about the Centres of Excellence scheme. At these workshops, Centre Directors have also shared their wisdom with interested researchers and research administrators. You can read more about these workshops in the article—Mythbusting at the ARC Centres of Excellence workshops.

In our policy and strategy space, I look forward to the release of the revised Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (the Code) with three co-authors—the ARC, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), and Universities Australia—the review of the Code has been a massive undertaking over the past two years with extensive consultation and consideration by key players in the Australian research sector, and with wide relevance and application. The release of the revised Code will be accompanied by a Guide to Managing and Investigating Potential Breaches of the Australian Code for Responsible Conduct of Research.

Importantly, the review of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research has provided an opportunity to ensure Australia’s research integrity requirements are contemporary, world-leading and robust. The Code and Guide will continue to provide the cornerstone of ensuring that the Australian research effort is supported by a system that assures the responsible conduct and integrity of that effort.

Once the Code and Guide have been released, the ARC, NHMRC, and Universities Australia will work together to promote the new documents, including arrangements for the transition from the 2007 version of the Code, as well as the development of further relevant guidance material. Stay tuned for more information on this.

On the subject of change, as part of whole-of-government grant reforms, the ARC has also commenced work to transition from ‘Funding Rules’ to Grant Guidelines’. You can read more about the expected change and what it means in the article—The transition from Funding Rules to Grant Guidelines.

I hope you enjoy reading this edition of ARChway.