Developing an ARC Project Description – Prof Stephen Crain and Prof Lyndsey Nickels and Prof Catriona Mackenzie

Changes to ARC programs:

  • Discovery submissions mid April rather than beginning March
  • No more fellowships
  • 200 new ECR grants will include funds for individual researchers plus $25 project funds
  • Projects are for three years (no longer five)

Feedback on the changes is open to consultation: check the ARC website at

Stephen Crain’s thoughts on reviewing ARC applications [See workshop handouts for Stephen’s and Lyndsey’s notes]:

  • Write to an intelligent friend who is not in your field (reviewers read approx 150 grants so can’t be an expert in your area) – may help to actually pick an actual person
  • No sentence is precious – if it is not working, remove it
  • Don’t begin paragraph or sentence with citation (discuss the meaning and then use citations to validate)
  • John Maynard Keynes – you can introduce a tough of spontaneity at about draft 14 – tongue in cheek – don’t use phrases like “in conclusion” or “in saying that”.
  • Reviewers like to feel smart – so don’t use abbreviations that are not explained. As Max Colhart says “assessors should only have to read, not think”
  • Never write the grant without the guidelines in front of you.
  • Help the reviewer tick the boxes – even bold the actual ‘significance’ and ‘innovation’s in terms of phrases being used.
  • Outcomes: if the research goes according to plan then this research will…
  • Address special priorities identified by ARC
  • Pay special attention to the first 100 words – that’s what assessors return to
  • Illustrate that you know the literature and that your project addresses a gap – that leads to your innovation. (Write about 1 to 1.5 pages of background literature)
  • Always keep in mind the weighting of selection criteria: Significance and Innovation (30%), Method and Approach (20%), National Benefit (10%), Track Record (40%), so for instance spend 3 pages of significance and innovation.
  • In the method demonstrate that you understand the controls that need to be exercised and considerations that need to be applied – illustrating that you understand the factors
  • Make the reviewer feel like they want to do the research -” wow that’s really interesting and I want to do that research – wish I could do that sort of science”.
  • When reviewers are reviewing the application, they are often are looking whether the CI is just hiring other people to do the work rather than engaging in the project – define the roles of the CI and show that they are doing work.
  • Always write early and come back to the application many times to refine.
  • Always take criticism of others seriously.
  • Persistence is the key to getting grants – keep applying and refining. Take the time to get pilot data if that’s what reviewers recommend. No negative vibes – keep things positive. Probability of success is improved if you address the reviewer’s feedback and resubmit.
  • Assume the assessors are your friends – actually they are trying to help you and are almost without exception fair minded. Don’t try impress by jargon and overstating – be straight forward and impress by substance.
  • Divide double barreled sections up into their components: here is the significance and here is the innovation, here is the method and here is the approach
  • You may even reverse the order of the the aims and the background subsections in the Aims and Background section – as long as the order is sensible
  • Justify every claim.
  • In rejoinder indicate that you have thought about the issues raised and how you will address them.
  • If you are interested in how to write methodology etc, then why not read the papers of people who are going to be assessors!

Prof Catriona Mackenzie:

  • In humanities the weightings can differ a little, with potentially 2-3 pages on significance and innovations

Professor Lyndsey Nickels:

  • Feasibility is also critical – don’t bite off more than you can chew
  • Very clear aims, hypothesis, outcomes
  • Aims can be at the level of making the world a better place but also the specific aims of the project.
  • Use flow charts, tables and timelines to make the project clearer
  • Avoid long waffling sentences
  • Significance and national benefit are often outlined in aims section, so only has approximately one page in the significance and national benefit
  • Stephen takes notes on each grant application under the four sections that are scored. He to some extent assesses a grant by how easy it is for him to fill in each section.
  • Mention that Macquarie provides scholarships for successful applications – note that they are not there to do the work for the project – they are there to get research training in the area.
  • If you are applying for a postdoc, justify why they are needed (especially if you don’t have a name for them) – of course be clear that you are not trying to get them to do all the work.

Colm Halbert:

  • The size of each section will depend on the grant itself – some grants require a larger background section
  • Grab the instructions to applicants now because they will change the next year. However the instructions to applicants are excellent.

Note at times Prof Nochols advice conflicts with Professor Crain’s advice (re the workshop handout). Professor Crain has much more experience, and experience as an assessor, so his advice should be preferred.

A possible ARC grant topic: Developing educational leaders through through an enhanced model of communication competency development – Changing teachers’ belief systems about themselves.

About matthewbower

Professor at Macquarie University.
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