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So, you're NFFCed. What now?



Not for further consideration, or NFFC, is a bit of an NHMRC special. It says thanks for putting in all that hard work, but your application has been judged in the bottom 50% of everything we received. This outcome sucks. After all the hard work in getting the application written and submitted, you get a slap in the face. Of greatest annoyance is that it is also a result that provides you with no feedback. You have no idea where you went wrong.

So, what now? Wine, chocolate, a long walk with the dog, whatever works; you need to regroup and come up with plan B. Having spent quite some time dealing with the fallout generated from NFFCs, I am providing a few suggestions to kick start the process of dealing with this outcome, and some potential ways to use it to your advantage.

Back to basics

In the granting game of snakes and ladders, this is a back to home base moment. A grant is a way of resourcing your research. However, although it is the main way to drive your research agenda, it is not the only way. Can you resource your research through other means? Through collaboration with an academic buddy or an industry partner as contract research?

Could a version be re-directed to a different NHMRC scheme, the ARC or even some smaller agency?

Has the work got a succession of NFFCs? You may then have the goods for an NHMRC Project Grant. I have reviewed far too many applications submitted with little chance of being funded as an NHMRC project grant. Be wary of the “sunk-cost” trap; there is an opportunity cost in repeatedly whipping a dead-horse. Just resubmitting an application that has little chance of getting funded will cost you in terms of opportunity*. Don’t blame the Assessors for “not getting it”. You wrote it, so it’s down to you. Something has to change – not just the date at the top of the page.

Or, can the work be presented as an ARC application or can a portion of it be used to target philanthropic support? Could it work better as an ARC Linkage or NHMRC Partnerships grant? These schemes currently have better rates of success.

Are you conflating your entire research program with the funding application? The granting space is extraordinarily competitive at the moment and if your grant just got hammered by the NHMRC it is worth considering reshaping it to target another funding body. These small pots of money can help maintain some momentum for the research and keep you in the game.

Look hard at how your team is tracking

Were you on track to score a category 6 for Track Record (TR)? If not, you have a major problem that must be addressed. Firstly, are you as good as you think you are? It’s time for a bit of self-reflection. Look at your Assessors’ comments and try to map to NHMRC category descriptors. Now subtract one. We tend to be overly optimistic about how good we are and lowering our self-estimation by one is more grounded, with respect to GRP outcomes. See if you can get external input - someone with recent GRP experience or success would be valuable. The point is TRs tend to be very metrics based and can be changed with addition/subtraction of team members and, of course, publications.

Next year NHMRC will allow CIs to submit a maximum of two Project Grant applications. The two application cap will have a major impact on establishing highly competitive teams. Those able to lock a competitive team in place early will have a distinct advantage.

Can you join forces with someone else?

This may cost you the CI-A spot, but if you want the money you may have to remind your Research Office that 50% of something is better than three fifths of &*#k-all. Money has a habit of changing people’s behaviour and a pre-award agreement means that you have something to fall back on; indeed it call be useful for deflecting friction (“… my RO is insisting that … ”).

So while the NFFC outcome is disappointing, it is a wakeup call and you have some time before the next funding rounds. Some feedback would be nice, but at least there is time to do something. Rejigging your thinking about your research program, your team, and your strategy for funded your research program are good starting places.

*There is some folk law about a previous year’s applications being dusted off and submitted, and getting funded. Given the current funding success rates this approach seems to be barking mad. Moreover, when I have dug into these situations there is much the folk law does not say. The application was the same - aside from the changes to the team, some more preliminary data, and an altered focus.

[If you need help strategising out of the NFFC pile – give us a call to talk about some support.]