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A deep dive into the New Zealand Mana Tūāpapa Future Leader Fellowships

This is the first round of the Mana Tūāpapa Future Leader Fellowships (closing date of Thursday 25 July 2024 at 2 pm) - so let's get to know this new fund. Looks like it's a straight mashup of the Rutherford Discovery Fellowship and the Rutherford Postdoc, but with new outcomes: 20 New Zealand Mana Tūāpapa Future Leader Fellowships in any field for 4-years with a total value of $820,000 (keep in mind this includes overheads...). Not too shabby, hey?



What are the aims of the fund?

The funders state this fund aims to:

  • Improve the retention of talented future research leaders, both during the fellowship and in their post-fellowship careers, through development of a strong track record

  • Support career development, to empower Fellows to become leaders in their fields, their organisations

  • Improve equity and diversity within the SI&T system, in particular by creating opportunities for Māori, Pacific peoples and women who are excellent researchers and future leaders of research

  • Reward and support a range of boundary-pushing research activities, including those that focus on generating impact from research.


So what will you actually be assessed on?

  • How much you have achieved to date: Track record and potential to establish, re-enter or progress their career in research relative to opportunity

  • Your plan if you are successful: Clear articulation of a research plan with high likelihood to deliver research outcomes

  • Institutional support: suitability of the host’s capability to support the Fellow (including cultural support and commitment to embedding Te Tiriti o Waitangi) throughout the Fellowship.


Something that is quite different from similar funds in the past is the assessment process. I'm really interested in seeing how this new stratified selection ballot will play out.

How will this work?

Referees will be asked to score applicants, and provide additional comments, on a series of question about the applicant (see more below). These referee scores and comments will be used by the selection panel to determine your suitability to receive a fellowship compared to other applicants. This should get you thinking straightaway about how important your referee selection is.


The assessment panel will then determine and apply a cutoff threshold based on scores provided by referees, and all applications above the threshold will enter the ballot. In order to keep the recommendations of the referee anonymous, applicants will not be informed if they made the threshold for ballot or not.


The Māori researcher ballot will be drawn first, until four are selected. Unselected Māori applicants who also identify as Pacific Peoples will be added to the Pacific researcher ballot. Other unselected Māori applicants will be added to the General ballot. The Pacific researcher ballot will be drawn next and will select two applicants. Unselected Pacific applicants will be added to the General ballot. The remaining 14 recipients will be drawn from the General ballot. The process will ensure that of the 20 total recipients, at least 10 recipients will identify as female.


NOTE: At first, I thought this process was a true ballot process, but as there is a panel review after the selection, this really isn't the case. From the guidelines, the Panel will: review each balloted application to ensure that the applicant’s track record demonstrates a potential to establish, re-enter or progress their career in research relative to opportunity, assess that each applicant has clearly articulated a research plan with high likelihood to deliver research outcomes, and assess the suitability of the host’s capability to support the Fellow. Applications that are assessed as not fulfilling the selection criteria will be disregarded and replaced by a new application selected from balloted reserve applications. So, it sounds like a stratified, random selection of applicants will be presented to the panel, who will then review and replace until they are satisfied... wonder why they didn't go straight to the panel assessment and then hold a ballot after of applications that meet their assessment? Let me know what you think about this process! What I know for sure is that it will be interesting. Want to read more? See the panellist guidelines.


So - what are my top tips?

I recommend working to optimise your chances of getting in to the ballot. So, you want your eligibility criteria to be on point (your research office will be your best source of support here), be very clear on your years' post PhD, and have a very clear plan for your referee selection.


Eligibility: A few things to note right off the bat:

  • You must be a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident

  • You must be an early career researcher whose PhD was conferred within six years of the closing date for applications (PhD conferred on or after 25 July 2018). The eligibility period for PhD conferral may be extended beyond six years in cases of parental leave, extended sickness, part time work, etc. Check the guidelines closely here.

  • You must have completed all requirements for your PhD to be conferred at the time of application


Years Post PhD: As applicants are eligible to apply for a Mana Tūāpapa Fellowship over a range of 0-6 years of research experience post PhD, referees ad panellists are instructed to consider the Applicant in relation to their years of research experience.

  • As an example, applicants that have only just finished their PhD, should be compared to other researchers at a similar level, and not be directly compared to a researcher with 5-6 years of post-PhD research experience.

  • What does this mean for you? Don't overstate your research experience years - you want this number to be as low as is accurate. Remember to take in to account periods of leave or part-time work, for example.

  • They have a career gaps calculator you can use to help.


Referees: If your referees don't rate you well, you may likely not even make it to the ballot. So referee choices need to be made carefully. You should choose as expert of referees (e.g., prestigious title or institution) as possible, while still making sure they know you well enough to rate you accurately - don't seek someone too prestigious who may not know you well enough to give a strong review. All you need to do at the closing date is secure the referee - they submit their reports later.

  • You will be required to secure three referee to support your application by the closing date of Wednesday 21 August 2024 at 2pm (NZST).

  • If your PhD was conferred less than three years ago, one of your referees must be your PhD supervisor unless otherwise approved by Royal Society Te Apārangi.

  • At least two of your referees should be able to comment on your capability and/or potential as a researcher.

  • Where relevant, you may choose to have one referee comment on other aspects important for your career as a researcher, e.g. working with communities, stakeholder relationships, demonstration of leadership, research service or any other aspects you see relevant.

  • Referees are asked comment on your abilities, relative to opportunity (e.g., years post PhD), in a series of questions on various aspects of a research career.

  • Referees also have an opportunity to give a free text reference of the applicant to provide other commentary.

  • Referees are asked to indicate in what capacity they know you and to detail any real or perceived conflict of interest.

  • For more information about the referee reports and the questions they ask referees, see the “Guidelines for Referees”.


Referees should ideally not have a direct conflict of interest:

  • They should not hold a line of management role over the applicant at the proposed host organisation

  • They should not be directly involved in the applicant’s proposed research, as funding of the application would be seen to benefit the referee.

  • An exemption to this rule is allowed for the supervisor of an applicant’s PhD programme for applicants with their PhD conferred less than three years ago as discussed above.

What are referees rating you on? Check out their guidelines:

"Relative to opportunity, how would you describe the applicant’s:

  1. Research achievements and their potential to establish, re-enter or further progress their career in research?

  2. Ability to independently develop and plan original and innovative research? This includes, where relevant, showing skill and expertise in mātauranga Māori and/or Kaupapa Māori.

  3. Preparation of the research plan? Is it clearly articulated? Does the applicant have a high likelihood to deliver research outcomes from this proposal?

  4. Ability to effectively communicate research in writing and verbally to a variety of audiences to generate impact (e.g., writing of funding proposals, research synopses, publications, or other written material, along with presenting at conferences, seminars, hui, wānanga, discussion forums, outreach events or other opportunities)?

  5. Ability to exhibit or cultivate skills and attributes as a mentor or leader within their research field? This includes, where relevant, a growing research reputation with iwi, hapū, and/or other groups and communities.


These questions will be scored out of 5 points (higher being better). The Mana Tūāpapa assessment panel will determine and apply a cutoff threshold based on scores provided by referees, and all applications above the threshold will enter the ballot.


A few other things to note:

  • See some of my other blog posts for information on how to setup your bid, budget and how to compile a strong narrative CV.

  • Similar to funds of the past (think Rutherford Discovery Fellowship here), Fellowships are awarded on 0.8 Full Time Equivalent basis, unless otherwise agreed.

  • You must be the primary supervisor for the postgraduate student for the student to be funded from fellowship funding.

  • PhD students funded by Mana Tūāpapa Future Leader Fellowship funding must begin their studies in the first year of the Fellowship unless otherwise approved by Royal Society Te Apārangi.

  • Remember to save time to get your proof of citizenship/residency, proof of PhD and declaration signed - don't leave this for the last minute!

  • And - best of luck from me! Want more information? Make sure to check out one of the Royal Society roadshows near you. Also, did you know that I help with bid editing, planning and review? Reach out to learn more.

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