Thank you for joining us for the first edition of ARChway for 2021, where we find ourselves at the end of the first quarter. It’s been a busy start to the year already and the pace is certainly picking up. 

From late 2020, the ARC, like many of you, commenced transitioning back into working from the office, and away from a reliance on remote working that was the norm for most of last year. That being said, with travel restrictions continuing and an inability to hold some key activities on site at the ARC, such as selection meetings, we are now well practiced in delivering activities online in a virtual capacity, which has allowed our processes to continue for the most part without any major interruption. We continue on under the new ‘COVID normal’, in our collaborations with university research offices and researchers as we focus on delivering the ARC’s programs.  

It’s also been an eventful start to the year with the ARC appearing before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security Inquiry into National Security Risks Affecting the Australian Higher Education and Research Sector which considers the national security risks to the sector, and our routine appearance for Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee Additional Estimates 2020-21

Here are some other significant happenings at the ARC since the last edition of ARChway…  

The outcomes for the Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities scheme for funding commencing in 2021 were announced on 23 December 2020, with 47 successful projects receiving $38.8 million in funding, including to The University of Sydney for a state-of-the-art Australian Stress Engineering Facility and to Flinders University for their AusStage LIEF 7 project, which aims to enhance the world's oldest and most extensive national dataset on live performance.  

Linkage Projects 2020 Round 2 outcomes were announced on 24 March 2021, with 65 successful projects receiving $29.5 million in funding for valuable projects ranging from research to scale up satellite communications for the Internet of Things (IoT), to examining the social connections of adults with hearing loss. Linkage Projects 2020 Round 3 is currently under peer review with outcomes anticipated to be announced in June 2021. 

Following on from our successful online induction sessions with new ARC Australian Laureate Fellows and Future Fellows last year, online induction sessions for the new 2021 Discovery Early Career Researcher Award recipients were also held during March. Follow-up information sessions are now being planned for the relevant Research Office staff. Induction sessions provide a valuable opportunity for the ARC to engage with new fellows and awardees as they embark on their exciting new research and are working out the best ways to manage their grant and maximise their research opportunities.  

The ARC hosted a Major Investments Research Office Training (MIROT) webinar at the end of January. The teams provided a general overview of Major Investments schemes and common Postaward requirements for ARC Centres of Excellence, the Industrial Transformation Research Program and Special Research Initiatives. The event was well attended by over 90 Research Office staff across the country. Future thematic MIROT sessions are planned for the next few months for Research Office staff. 

The ARC also hosted a Per- and Poly-fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Remediation Research Project Briefing during February. The meeting was attended by ARC representatives, the project leaders and team members for the PFAS Remediation Research Program, and external representatives from other Australian Government departments. Project Leaders provided a brief update on their progress to date, including highlighting their research outcomes.   

College of Experts and peer review 

I am pleased to acknowledge the appointment of the 2021 College of Experts who will play a key role in the ARC’s peer review of National Competitive Grants Program grant applications. We are fortunate to have members – who are experts of international standing drawn from across of the Australian research community – committing their time and expertise to support the ARC.

It was great to engage with our new members at our recent online College of Experts Induction day, where the ARC’s Executive Directors and Programs staff, as well as experienced College members, discussed the role and responsibilities of College of Experts members and held discussion panels to share knowledge and advice with the new members. You might be interested to also read more about how our College of Experts is faring in terms of working towards equal gender representation

More broadly, I would also like to thank our cohort of peer reviewers who have contributed to our peer review processes and particularly in the current environment of COVID-19 – it is very much appreciated. The ARC would also like to remind our peer reviewers to keep their profiles up to date, and to action your assigned assessments, even if this is to reject an assignment. This will greatly assist the ARC to reallocate applications in a timely way to assist with assessments. We look forward to working with our peer review community through this year and we continue to appreciate your support in this very important role and process. 

ERA/EI Review progress 

The ARC is continuing its review of the Excellence in Research for Australia and Engagement and Impact assessments (the ERA/EI Review). We are grateful to everyone who has contributed so far, whether through the public consultation or those providing expert advice to the review. Submissions to the public consultation are available on the ERA EI Review page, and we look forward to finalising the review and release its report in the coming months. 

International Women’s Day campaign 

And finally, I would also like to acknowledge International Women’s Day (IWD) which falls on 8 March every year. The theme for IWD 2021 was ‘Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world’. This theme celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future. 
 
The ARC promoted IWD 2021 with our own Twitter hashtag #WomenLeadResearch campaign. We featured the Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Georgina Sweet Laureate Fellows, an interview with ARC Future Fellow, Dr Zoe Doubleday, who is also a Superstar of STEM – one of a group of 60 extraordinary women who are challenging society’s gender assumptions about scientists and increasing the public visibility of women in STEM, and a multitude of ARC-funded research led by female researchers. You can read and watch the full interview with Zoe Doubleday

As always, I hope you enjoy reading the inclusions in this edition of ARChway

Professor Sue Thomas