top of page

Marsden: Crafting a Standout Application

If you are planning to apply for a Marsden Grant / Marsden Fast-start (Te Pūtea Rangahau a Marsden), then you know the competition is fierce. The Royal Society itself says: "competition for grants is intense." Last years' success rate was 13.3% in 2023, a slight increase compared to 12.6% the year prior.

Why is Marsden so competitive? Largely due to its breadth and scope - your research does not have to be subject to government’s socio-economic priorities; it can be led by your own aims. The Fund also supports many fields, including science, engineering and maths, social sciences and the humanities. Lastly, it is prestigous - Marsden is regarded as the hallmark of excellence for research in Aotearoa NZ.

So - what can you do to help your bid stand out given these odds?

First, don't worry about the odds, and apply as many years as you can. Sounds simple, but many academics put it off. You can only have a chance if you have a horse in the race. I have seen many academics finally have Marsden success after 3, 4, 5, +++ years applications and rejections.

Second, I highly recommend remembering the Marsden is not just a 'one pager.' It is actually quite a few pages long (stats/codes, summary, VM, abstract, roles and resources, FTE tables, declarations, .... ) because the Marsden fund has multiple key aims:

  1. Support excellent research projects (read: research)

  2. Expand the knowledge base (read: dissemination)

  3. Develop people with advanced skills in New Zealand (read: growing academics and benefitting Aotearoa).

So you need to use all sections of a Marsden application to make the most of your response to these key areas. Sure, in your abstract you can hit point 1 above, but your Roles and Resources page is a key area to cement points 2 and 3. When done well, this leads to a strong application, so don't overlook your Roles and Resources page. This should clearly nail the assessment criteria that review whether your research team have the ability and capacity to deliver, and that your work will develop research skills in New Zealand, particularly those at the post-doctoral level and emerging researchers. It is also a chance to highlight (*humble brag*) about the resources that the team will have access to, and, for Fast-Starts, how the proposed research will support your independent research career.

What are some of my other suggestions?

  1. Understand the assessment process: Initially, you will submit a short expression of interest (EoI) in February. These are assessed by the panel, and the highest ranked are invited to submit full proposals. But how does this actually work? Typically, assessors review bid after bid individually. Once assessors are satisfied that a proposal meets each criterion on its own, they will score the proposal relative to other proposals being considered by the panel (e.g., aiming for a good distribution of scores). Proposals with an "exciting and compelling research goal that transcends the sum of the individual assessment criteria" are likely to score more highly in this process. So, what does this mean for you? You want your message to be clear, exciting, and attention-grabbing. So don't bore the assessors with a lot of background right of the bat - get straight to an exciting opening statement (and use the summary and Vision Mātauranga sections to your advantage as these are typically the first sections read). Polish your bid so it stands out not only at the individual assessment, but also compared to others under review.

  2. Don't repeat content across your sections: As above, make each section compliment the other and ensure you have a good flow. Have others read your application to make sure it makes sense and has a strong narrative across sections. You don't have much space so make the most of it - use the guidelines to your advantage to make sure you have everything ticked off for each section (see guideline pages 31-34, for example).

  3. Get your years-post PhD right: You will be assessed on your ‘ability and capacity to deliver’ - however, this will be judged relative to opportunity, with career achievements assessed in the context of career history, allowing for breaks for family or other responsibilities. So make sure you have a look in the guidelines on how to calculate this - you want your number to be as low as is accurate.

  4. Apply to the right panel: Marsden provide detailed information on the panels - check out the panellists and see where skills and knowledge might overlap. You might be surprised at the breadth of specialties on these panels - another reminder to write (at the EOI stage) for a wide, academic audience - make sure your work is interesting and accesible to a wide-range of academics. More information on panels here: Marsden Fund Panels.

Where else to get help?

  • Get in touch if you would like support in developing your ideas or application.

  • Read the guidelines (and then read them again).

  • Dig in to the Marsden portal (don't leave this to the last minute..)

  • Get to know these FAQs - in my years of reviewing and editing Marsden applications, this little FAQ doc was routinely the most helpful time and time again.

Also, and especially for Fast-Start bids, check your budget and check it twice. Fast-start funding is set at NZ$120,000 (excluding GST) per year for three years which will go very quickly - especially with overhead costings factored in. Work with your Research office to make sure you have a correct budget to back up your grand plans.

Best of luck and check back here later in the year for guidance on the full-stage process for more Marsden fun..


bottom of page