Marsden Fund dishes out $85.64m of grants – and we can’t wait to read the research reports

Want to know what counts as a “critical issue” when public funding is dispensed, through the Royal Society of New Zealand, to the country’s top researchers?

You can get an idea from the titles of the successful projects in the latest round of grants.  They include –

  • The Best of Times, the Worst of Times: A Biocultural investigation of 19th century Frontier mining cemeteries in Australia, New Zealand and California;
  • Sensitive Negotiations: Indigenous Diplomacy and British Romantic Poetry;
  • The Natural History of Film Form: Film Aesthetics through Animal, Vegetable and Mineral Matter;
  • Legal cannabis for sale: home-grown or supermarket?
  • Embodying the law: Manhood and authority in the making of English legal culture c.1300-1600.

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods announced the successful projects yesterday (almost 90% of the applications missed out), saying the country’s top researchers will be able to investigate critical issues and build knowledge across the board supported by $85.64 million over the next three years through the 2018 Marsden Fund round.

The Marsden Fund supports New Zealand’s top researchers to conduct excellent research across science, mathematics, engineering, social science and the humanities, she said.

This year 136 new proposals had received funding across a range of disciplines and topics, from climate change to kauri dieback to youth mental health, Woods said.

“It’s particularly encouraging to see research being undertaken for such critical issues facing our country. The government has set some ambitious targets – reducing child poverty, transitioning to 100% renewable electricity by 2035 in a normal hydrological year and increasing the supply of warm, dry homes.

“Building up the knowledge base is absolutely vital for us to address these issues, particularly with global challenges like climate change. 

“These recipients will undertake research of the highest quality in their fields of expertise and raise the standard of research in New Zealand. The Marsden Fund is key to growing New Zealand’s innovation-led economy and society, and boosting our R&D investment.”

The diversity and strength of the research funded would have many flow-on effects for New Zealand’s science and innovation system, as well as long-term benefits for our environment, society and the economy.

The Marsden Fund is administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand. Proposals are evaluated by independent assessment panels and the final recommendations for funding are made by the Marsden Fund Council, which is chaired by Professor David Bilkey.

Bilkey said:

“The Marsden Fund is designed to enable our top researchers to develop their most ambitious and exciting ideas. This ‘blue-sky’ funding is vital to ensuring a vibrant research culture in our country, and the resulting work will help us better understand our environment and society. Some of these fundamental discoveries will also lead to new, and sometimes unexpected, solutions to current problems, in areas as diverse as health care, sustainability and social policy.”

He said he was delighted to see strong engagement with mātauranga Māori in applications across a diverse range of disciplines. These range from a study of Māori responses to 20th century welfare policies to the use of a waka-based craft to access and investigate remote volcanoes.

 “These projects exemplify the thoughtful integration of Māori knowledge and methods with specific disciplinary approaches, and were evaluated as both rigorous and innovative by world-leading international referees.”

The overall success rate for applicants has continued to rise slightly, from 10.7% in 2016 to 12% in 2017 and 12.4% this year. The success rate for Fast-Start grants for early-career researchers was 14.8%.

The amount of funding awarded this year, and thus the success rate, remains at an all-time high due to ongoing government support (the spending of taxpayers money, in other words).

The grants are distributed over three years and are fully costed, paying for salaries, students and postdoctoral positions, institutional overheads and research consumables.

The full results are on the Royal Society Te Apārangi’s website here.

Harking back to the projects we listed at the start of this post, Professor H.R. Buckley, from Otago University, has been granted $827,000 for The Best of Times, the Worst of Times: A Biocultural investigation of 19th century Frontier mining cemeteries in Australia, New Zealand and California. He is working with a team of eight other academics from as far away as Alaska.

Dr N.A.Hessell, at Victoria University of Wellington, has secured $563,000 for Sensitive Negotiations: Indigenous Diplomacy and British Romantic Poetry. 

The other three we highlighted involve Massey University researchers.

Dr P K. Duncan will get $300,000 for The Natural History of Film Form: Film Aesthetics through Animal, Vegetable and Mineral Matter; Dr M Rychert will get $300,000 for Legal cannabis for sale  home-grown or supermarket? and Dr E.A.McVitty will get $300,000 for Embodying the Law: Manhood and Authority in the Making of English Legal Culture c.1300-1600 

Fair to say, if we go beyond the project titles and read the abstracts we learn more.

In the case of the McVitty project, for example, the abstract says:

“”From the time the common law profession emerged in England c.1300, lawyers formed a tight-knit fraternity that excluded many men and all women.

“Lawyers became the linchpin of English legal culture because prior to c.1600, legal authority was not located in written judgements or codes but in the shared oral learning, memory, and customs of practitioners. What these men said and did in court became the law, and their courtroom performances were conditioned by immersion in an all-male social and intellectual milieu.

“While it is obvious to say that the law was made by men, this is the first study to ask how masculinity structured this process. The project uses qualitative analysis of legal records, yearbooks and other texts used by lawyers, in conjunction with evidence of space, place and the visual culture of the law, to trace the ways masculine ideals and lawyers’ embodied experiences of manhood shaped legal thinking and practice. It also explains how gender interacted with social status and a collective sense of national identity to define English common law culture over the profession’s first formative centuries.”

We can’t wait for the final published report.

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