Wed 4 Oct 2017

Taking it for granted

The Health Research Council of New Zealand offers funding of between $250,000 and a maximum of $1.2 million for research projects that have the potential to vastly improve our health system and the health of New Zealanders.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s 2018 Endeavour Fund will invest in research that has potential to positively transform New Zealand’s economic performance.

And in 2017, for science and research, the Government put up $74.6 million through the Innovative New Zealand programme to boost Callaghan Innovation’s research and development Growth Grants.

There’s money to be made from research – the issue is how to get it.

The third in the WITT Public Research Seminar Series, Ngā Ara Rangahau at Te Piere, on the polytech’s New Plymouth campus, provided many answers, and an overview of the research funding landscape.

Professor Te Kani Kingi, Executive Director, Research and Innovation at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiarangi, presented a how-to session to listeners – and it contained some insightful observations and tips as well as some basic lessons in writing.

Dr Kingi is the Māori lead on New Zealand’s largest and most comprehensive research programme – Growing Up in New Zealand – a 21-year study of New Zealand children.

In what might have been a chapter for a lesson in journalism, he told the audience pushing their application across the line could come down to how well they word it.

Avoid acronyms, avoid jargon, avoid waffle, he said.

He painted a picture of a reviewer confronted by a “mouthful of academia at 2am” being turned off an application.

Earlier he used a bell curve graph to illustrate the fate of applications.

“Five might be rubbish, five might be brilliant and 40 are in a race for the last five positions. So the difference between getting $1.5 million and nothing might be half a point. You don’t have to be a lot better than the others, you just have to be a little better’’ he added.

Professor Kingi said there were hundreds of opportunities to apply for funding, and sometimes it came down to recognising how to sell an idea.

He warned against taking the easy option every time. Only five percent of funding was specifically targeted for Māori, and there was a full queue for that money.

“People ask me what my area of interest is – I say it is whatever you are funding. Look for alignments between what is being sought and what you can offer – it is not always obvious” he added.

He said good researchers were not discouraged by the fact they may have limited knowledge of certain aspects of the required work, because skills could be brought in to “bind the methodology’’.

“Research projects also provided rich pickings for students looking to fund their post graduate scholarships”, he added. It came down to examining the requirements of the research. He also warned that it was vital the researchers fully understood what was required and did not try to offer something different.

“Read the guidelines, understand the focus and park the enthusiasm” he said. “Understand the process and deadlines and the fact the funder will not shift their focus – make your interests tick their boxes.”

Timing was also key. There were often more opportunities to pick up funding near the end of the Government’s financial year.

Funds were sometimes left under subscribed – “and you have got a great chance if you are the only applicant.’’

He said the funding scene was a competitive one and people should not be afraid to call and consult with the funders.

And in the event of an application failing, all was not lost.

“You get 30% of the grants you apply for, and 0% of those you don’t apply for.

“Don’t take it personally if the application fails. If it is a good application, you can repackage it and try it in another environment.”

Picture: Professor Kingi, pictured at WITT with Dr Lily George, who organises the research seminar series at WITT.