Group of Eight Australia
Australia's Leading Universities
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Settling In: The Researcher's Guide to Your University

1.1 Working as a researcher in a research-intensive university

Go8 universities are leaders in research, conducting over 60 per cent of the research in Australia and winning more than 70 per cent of competitive research grants. As a researcher within a Go8 university, it is important that you understand the environment in which you work to ensure you are in the best position to contribute to the research community and your university's research position.

The sections below will give you an overview of the most important frameworks and organisations which shape the Australian research environment.

a. Research funding

Research funding is offered by numerous organisations, both public and private. The largest and most important funding bodies for Go8 universities are the Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council.

The Australian Research Council (ARC) is a national research body which administers funding for research grants through its national competitive grants programs in research fields other than medical research.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) administers funding for health and medical research.

The ARC and the NHMRC offer funding schemes for individual and group research and at different career stages. Granting schemes include fellowships, project costs, research infrastructure and research undertaken with industry or government partners.

These granting schemes are highly sought after, with Go8 universities heavily represented in the successful allocations.

The ARC and NHMRC granting schemes are regularly revised and researchers are advised to keep abreast of changes by regularly reviewing current information online via the URLs provided above, and to ensure good communication with their research office and school administration.

In addition to the national research councils, a large number of organisations offer both small and large grants for research. Your university research office or equivalent should be able to provide you with a full list of opportunities.

Some prominent examples of organisations funding research are:
Cancer Council Australia and its members are the leading funders of independent cancer research and related activities in Australia. For information about Cancer Council research funding programs, visit their website: http://www.cancer.org.au/research.htm

The Heart Foundation offers a range of awards across a variety of categories for research into heart, stroke, and blood vessel disease. For details, visit their website: http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/RESEARCH/FUNDING/Pages/default.aspx

The Ian Potter Foundation makes grants for general charitable purposes in Australia that advance knowledge and benefit the community in the areas of the arts, community wellbeing, education, environment and conservation, health, medical research, and science. For more information, visit their website: http://www.ianpotter.org.au/

b. Strategic research priorities

The strategic research priorities (SRPs) were developed by the Australian Government and are designed to focus Australian research into areas that will contribute significantly to the economic, social, and environmental needs of Australia.

The five themes of the strategic research priorities are:

  • Living in a changing environment
  • Promoting population health and wellbeing
  • Managing our food and water assets
  • Securing Australia’s place in a changing world
  • Lifting productivity and economic growth.

Please refer to http://www.industry.gov.au/research/Pages/StrategicResearchPriorities.aspx for a detailed description of each strategic research priority and its associated priority goals. Researchers applying to either the ARC or NHMRC will be required to outline how their proposed research project will address one of the above SRPs. The SRPs may change in the future so it is important to check their currency online before embarking on a grant application or any other justification of research in relation to the national research priorities. Your research proposal can be at an advantage if you can show strong alignment between your research (including the research infrastructure of your university) and the SRPs.

c. Excellence in Research for Australia

The Australian Government has established a research quality and evaluation system, the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) initiative. The ARC developed and administers ERA on behalf of the government. You can read more about ERA here:  http://www.arc.gov.au/era/default.htm

ERA assesses research quality within Australia's higher education institutions using a combination of indicators and expert review by committees comprising experienced, internationally-recognised experts. For the 2012 assessment, the ERA uses leading researchers to evaluate research in eight discipline clusters, which are:
Cluster 1:  Physical, Chemical and Earth Sciences (PCE)
Cluster 2:  Humanities and Creative Arts (HCA)
Cluster 3:  Engineering and Environmental Sciences (EE)
Cluster 4:  Education and Human Society (EHS)
Cluster 5:  Economics and Commerce (EC)
Cluster 6:  Mathematical, Information and Computing Sciences (MIC)
Cluster 7:  Biological and Biotechnological Sciences (BB)
Cluster 8:  Medical and Health Sciences (MHS)

The first ERA assessment covering all disciplines took place in 2010. You can see the results here: http://www.arc.gov.au/era/era_2010/outcomes_2010.htm. Results are displayed by institution and by field of research code (FoR).

The process of evaluating areas of research strength has placed considerably more pressure on researchers to develop collective areas of research strength to achieve a critical mass in defined discipline areas. It also emphasises the importance of each researcher ensuring they are research active and generating creditable outcomes. This can be particularly challenging for those new to academe where research and teaching must be balanced.
As the ERA process continues, it is a good idea to remain up-to-date by checking the ARC website frequently for updates and information: http://www.arc.gov.au/era/default.htm

d. Responsible research

The Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research was developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Research Council, and Universities Australia and is designed to guide researchers and institutions in responsible research practices. The code covers a number of research-related areas, including management of research data, supervision of research trainees, publication and dissemination of research findings, authorship, peer review, conflicts of interest, and research collaboration across institutions. In order to receive grant funding from either the ARC or NHMRC, a university must comply with the Australian Code. Researchers must therefore both understand the contents of the code and ensure that they comply with it in the conduct of their research.

The Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research can be accessed at: http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/publications/synopses/r39syn.htm. For further information on aspects of the code, please review Module 3: Governance and Compliance

Excellent research: expectations and implications

As a researcher you play an important role in maintaining and/or expanding the research outcomes for your institution. Your performance as an excellent researcher will depend on many factors, including your own research skills, knowledge and capabilities. Researchers in our universities are expected to perform to a very high standard, with outcomes often incorporating:

  • Quality publications in internationally reputed journals, monographs or other appropriate sources, depending on your discipline
  • A credible and sustained track record, including presentations on your research at national and international conferences or other events
  • Funded research – particularly from Australian Competitive Grants sources
  • Successful research which is well-conceived, soundly executed and followed through with publications
  • Collaborative research with industry, other researchers and increasingly, cross-disciplinary research

These expectations will vary from discipline to discipline, but they reflect a strong concern for the ongoing strengthening of both our individual and collaborative research outputs. It is important that you build a strong understanding of the performance outcomes that you should be aiming to demonstrate. You will able to clarify these expectations through your discussion using your Induction Interview Checklist at the end of this module.

For the moment, take a short break and think about the picture you have developed of this university's research infrastructure and focus. If there are any gaps in your knowledge, record them on your checklist record.

(Note that on the final subtopic page of each topic, the Next > link in the navigation bar below returns you to the first page for this topic, so you can review the topic as a whole and complete any activities listed there before moving on to the next topic via the Organiser page.)

 

 
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