At 1am this morning (has someone something to hide?) the recipients of Marsden grants were announced.
Congratulations to them all.
$54.6 million was distributed over 86 research projects. Marsden funds “blue skies” research across a number of disciplines – humanities, science, technology etc. The list of topics reflect the diversity. I think that they are worth celebrating so I have listed below the projects and awardees mentioned in the media pack (only 30 something, so there must be others).
The awards fall into two categories: Standard grants of up to $330K per annum for three years (open to anyone) and Fast-start grants of $115K per annum for three years which go to early career researchers (within 7 years of getting PhD: It used to be 7 years of post PhD research experience which enabled me to get such a grant 3 years ago despite having had a 15 yr hiatus between postdoc and next science position – they changed the rules the following year!).
Shame on the system
While 86 projects were funded, 1113 proposals were made. This is a success rate of 7.7%. I have posted before on just what such an appalling low success rate looks like when the Health Research Council funded just 7% of proposals. This is a crisis. Successive governments are responsible. Fellow sciblog bloggers Grant Jacobs and Eric Campton pointed out to me Canadian research which showed the total cost to prepare grant proposals was greater than the amount awarded. Eric blogged about this in 2009. When is/was the cross-over point for HRC or Marsden funding? Was it when the success rate fell below 20% (crisis point according to HRC chief executive Robin Olds). Is it still viable at 7%. Minister Steven Joyce needs to put some people onto answering that question straight away.
Colleagues of mine have talked about Marsden and HRC becoming a lottery. They are not taking away from the tremendous work and great insights grant recipients have shown, only that many others have also shown those attributes without getting funding. The problem is having to rank a large bunch or excellent applications. This is not “taking the cream off the top”, rather it is attempting to pick out the tastiest tiny fraction of the cream – an impossible and meaningless task. Perhaps this is why in announcing the new Explorer grants the Health Research Council have said that any proposals that meet the criteria will go into a pot and the grantees will be decided by lottery. Quite possibly this may be just as fair as a ranking system. Quite probably the HRC have been driven to this position because of the unwillingness of researchers to sit on committees and spend many hours shuffling paper making impossible ranking decisions knowing that such a small proportion of applicants will be funded.
(ps – please forget I mentioned the Explorer grants…I may apply for one myself, and I don’t want too many people knowing about it as this will reduce my chances).