Overview

The (DECRA) scheme provides focused research support for early career researchers in both teaching and research, and research-only positions. 

The objectives of the Discovery Early Career Researcher Award scheme are to: 

  • support excellent basic and applied research by early career researchers;
  • support national and international research collaboration;
  • enhance the scale and focus of research in Australian Government priority areas;
  • advance promising early career researchers and promote enhanced opportunities for diverse career pathways; and
  • enable research and research training in high quality and supportive environments.

Selection process

Applications for funding commencing in 2021 opened on 16 October 2019 and closed on 12 March 2020. Applications were submitted through the Australian Research Council (ARC) Research Management System (RMS). This report outlines the outcomes from the selection process for that round.

These recommendations are based on advice from the ARC Selection Advisory Committee (SAC) which:  

  • assigned independent assessors to review the applications
  • assessed applications and reviewed assessments made by independent assessors
  • reviewed candidates’ comments on assessors’ reports
  • ranked each application relative to the others on the basis of the application, the assessors’ reports and candidates’ responses to those assessments
  • assessed and recommended budgets; 

and, advice from the ARC’s National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP) Eligibility Committee which:

  • considered eligibility issues identified by ARC staff, the members of the ARC College of Experts or independent assessors
  • where required, sought advice from the ARC’s Medical Research Advisory Group
  • made recommendations to the CEO in respect of ineligible applications.

This report reflects the outcomes approved by the Minister. Unless otherwise specified, data represented in this report exclude withdrawn applications.

Assessment criteria

All applications that meet the eligibility criteria for the Discovery Early Career Researcher Award 2021 applications were assessed and merit ranked using the following assessment criteria:

Investigator/Capability (50%)
Describe the:

  • Research Opportunity and Performance Evidence (ROPE) including record of high quality research outputs appropriate to the discipline/s.
  • capability of candidate to build collaborations both within Australia and internationally.

Project quality and innovation (25%)
Describe the:

  • contribution to an important gap in knowledge or significant problem;
  • novelty/originality and innovation of the proposed research (including any new methods, technologies, theories or ideas that will be developed);
  • clarity of the hypothesis, theories and research questions;
  • cohesiveness of the project design and implementation plan (including the appropriateness of the aim, conceptual framework, method, data and/or analyses); and
  • extent to which the research has the potential to enhance international collaboration.

Benefit (15%)
Describe the potential benefits including the:

  • new or advanced knowledge resulting from outcomes of the research;
  • economic, commercial, environmental, social and/or cultural benefits for Australia and international communities; and
  • potential contribution to capacity in the Australian Government’s National Science and Research Priorities and other priorities identified by government.

Feasibility (10%)
Describe the:

  • cost-effectiveness of the research and its value for money; 
  • feasibility of the research (including contribution of the project’s design, participants and resources to the timely completion of the project);
  • supportive environment for the DECRA candidate and their project, and for HDR students where appropriate; and
  • availability of the necessary facilities to complete the project.

If the project involves Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research describe:

  • the strategies for enabling collaboration with Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities where appropriate (for example, dialogue/collaboration with an Indigenous cultural mentor); and
  • any existing or developing, supportive and high quality research communities.

Assessment process

The ARC assessment process for Discovery Early Career Researcher Award 2021 involved 80 College of Experts members across five discipline panels and was managed in RMS. A total of 4097 independent assessors’ reports were submitted to the ARC.

Funding levels and duration

Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards are funded for three consecutive years on a full-time basis. The annual salary contribution that may be awarded is fixed at $104,316 (2019$), including 30 per cent on-costs. In addition, the ARC may provide up to $50,000 in project costs per annum.

Summary of outcomes

The ARC received a total of 1179 applications for Discovery Early Career Researcher Award for funding commencing in 2021, of which six applications were withdrawn. 

Two hundred Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards are approved for funding commencing in 2021, shown in Table 1. The overall success rate for Discovery Early Career Researcher Award for funding commencing in 2021 is 17.1%.
Of the unsuccessful applications in 2021, 17 were found not to meet eligibility requirements.

A comparison of success rates and funding amounts is shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Comparison of application numbers, success rates, requested and allocated funds for approved Discovery Early Career Researcher Award applications from 2020 to 2021

Funding year

Applications considered

Applications approved

Success rate (%)

Requested funds over project life for all applications considered ($)

Requested funds over project life for approved applications ($)

Funds allocated over project life for approved applications ($)

Return rate for approved applications (%)

2020

1248

200

16.0

$507,777,318

$81,972,769

$81,838,415

99.8

2021

1173

200

17.1

$506,629,691

$87,483,735

$84,041,533

96.1

 *May include indicative funding amounts

Outcomes by discipline 

A summary of outcomes by discipline panel is shown in Table 2.

Table 2. Number of applications, success rates and requested and allocated funds for approved Discovery Early Career Researcher Award 2021 applications by discipline

 

Discipline *

Applications considered

Applications approved

Success rate (%)

Requested funds over project life for all applications considered ($)

Requested funds over project life for approved applications ($)

Funds over project
 life for approved applications ($)

Return
Rate for approved applications (%)

BSB

228

39

17.1

$101,082,210

$17,622,888

$17,283,974

98.1

EIC

331

56

16.9

$142,744,019

$24,344,551

$23,389,501

96.1

HCA

166

28

16.9

$70,190,285

$12,218,703

$11,649,670

95.3

MPCE

233

40

17.2

$99,119,433

$17,137,900

$16,606,779

96.9

SBE

215

37

17.2

$93,493,744

$16,159,693

$15,111,609

93.5

Total

1173

200

17.1

$506,629,691

$87,483,735

$84,041,533

96.1

*BSB – Biological Sciences and Biotechnology; EIC – Engineering, Information and Computing Sciences, HCA – Humanities and Creative Arts; MPCE – Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Earth Sciences; SBE – Social, Behavioural and Economic Sciences 

Outcomes by Science and Research Priorities

A summary of outcomes by Science and Research Priorities is shown in Table 3. 

Table 3. Approved funding and success rate for Discovery Early Career Researcher Award 2021 applications by Science and Research Priorities

Science and Research Priorities

Applications considered

Applications

approved

Success
rate (%)

Approved funds over project life ($)

Advanced manufacturing

175

34

19.4

$14,211,934

Cybersecurity

47

5

10.6

$2,052,376

Energy

81

12

14.8

$5,005,505

Environmental change

161

36

22.4

$15,483,875

Food

40

11

27.5

$4,880,771

Health

125

18

14.4

$7,649,288

Resources

28

3

10.7

$1,267,994

Soil and water

47

6

12.8

$2,531,329

Transport

27

5

18.5

$2,108,029

Unspecified

442

70

15.8

$28,850,432

Total

1173

200

17.1

$84,041,533

Total within Science and Research Priorities

731

130

17.8

$55,191,101

Percentage within Science and Research Priorities (%)

62.3

65

 

65.7

Outcomes by Administering Organisation

A summary of outcomes by Administering Organisation is shown in Table 4.

Table 4. Numbers of applications and success rates for approved Discovery Early Career Researcher Award 2021 applications by Administering Organisation

 

Administering Organisation

Applications Considered

Applications approved

Success rate (%)

Funds over project life for approved applications ($)

Australian Capital Territory

91

20

22%

$8,617,059

The Australian National University

84

18

21.4%

$7,753,024

University of Canberra

7

2

28.6%

$864,035

New South Wales

397

72

18.1%

$29,857,583

Australian Catholic University

7

0

0%

$0

Charles Sturt University

3

0

0%

$0

Macquarie University

37

4

10.8%

$1,531,119

The University of New England

7

0

0%

$0

The University of New South Wales

124

22

17.7%

$9,045,907

The University of Newcastle

24

4

16.7%

$1,652,848

The University of Sydney

105

24

22.9%

$10,100,149

University of Technology Sydney

36

7

19.4%

$2,978,604

University of Wollongong

39

6

15.4%

$2,590,542

Western Sydney University

15

5

33.3%

$1,958,414

Queensland

192

40

20.8%

$17,024,708

Central Queensland University

2

1

50%

$407,679

Griffith University

22

3

13.6%

$1,247,408

James Cook University

15

6

40%

$2,569,630

Queensland University of Technology

31

6

19.4%

$2,398,627

The University of Queensland

110

21

19.1%

$9,114,200

University of Southern Queensland

8

2

25%

$866,164

University of the Sunshine Coast

4

1

25%

$421,000

South Australia

59

6

10.2%

$2,527,237

Flinders University

10

0

0%

$0

The University of Adelaide

38

4

10.5%

$1,674,218

Torrens University Australia

1

0

0%

$0

University of South Australia

10

2

20%

$853,019

Tasmania

21

2

9.5%

$851,128

University of Tasmania

21

2

9.5%

$851,128

Victoria

353

55

15.6%

$23,089,801

Deakin University

39

5

12.8%

$2,171,266

Federation University Australia

2

0

0%

$0

La Trobe University

13

4

30.8%

$1,693,473

Monash University

109

17

15.6%

$7,076,818

RMIT University

25

3

12%

$1,220,140

Swinburne University of Technology

28

1

3.6%

$350,898

The University of Melbourne

135

24

17.8%

$10,164,462

Victoria University

2

1

50%

$412,744

Western Australia

60

5

8.3%

$2,074,017

Curtin University

21

1

4.8%

$425,775

Edith Cowan University

1

0

0%

$0

Murdoch University

3

0

0%

$0

The University of Western Australia

35

4

11.4%

$1,648,242

Total

1173

200

17.1%

$84,041,533

Career age and gender

Of the 1173 Discovery Early Career Researcher Award candidates in this round, 458 were female, 710 were male and five candidates did not specify their gender. The success rate for female, male and unspecified candidates is 19.0 per cent, 15.6 per cent and 40.0 per cent respectively.

Success rates of Discovery Early Career Researcher Award candidates by career age and gender in the current Discovery Early Career Researcher Award round are presented in Figure 1. Discovery Early Career Researcher Award candidates who did not provide gender information (0.43%) are not represented in the figure below.

At the closing time of submission of applications, of the 1173 candidates, 969 were within five years of the award of their PhD and 204 candidates were beyond five years of the award of their PhD. To be eligible to apply for a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award, the latter group of researchers had their significant career interruptions certified by their Administering Organisation.

Of the approved Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards, 168 candidates were within five years of the award of their PhD and 32 candidates were beyond five years of the award of their PhD. 

Figure 1. Participation and success rate of candidates in Discovery Early Career Researcher Award 2021 by gender and career age*^

Attracting and retaining outstanding researchers

Applications were open to Eligible Organisations to nominate candidates who are promising early career researchers, resident either within Australia or overseas. (Table 5).

Table 5. Citizenship/residency status of Discovery Early Career Researcher Award 2021 candidates and approved Awardees

Citizenship/residency status

Applications considered

Applications considered

Applications approved

Success rate

Foreign Nationals

313

26.7%

40

12.8%

Resident Australians

783

66.8%

145

18.5%

Returning Australians

77

6.6%

15

19.5%

Total

1173

100%

200

17.1%

Note: All totals and percentages are shown using rounded figures, and as such may not sum.

International Collaboration

Among 1173 of the applications considered, applicants foreshadowed 2519 instances of collaboration with researchers in 88 overseas locations. Of the applications approved for funding, 183 foreshadowed 459 instances of collaboration with researchers in 55 overseas locations (Figure 2).

Figure 2. International collaborations by location in approved Discovery Early Career Researcher Award 2021 applications*

*The top 10 international collaboration locations are listed in Figure 2 and the remaining are grouped in the ‘Other’ category