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 Was your MRFF Early- to Mid-Career Researcher grant NFFC’d? Carpe diem.

Not for further consideration, or NFFC, is a shorthand way of the MRFF saying your application has been judged as not competitive (regardless of being submitted via NHMRC’s Sapphire portal or the business.gov hub).



At what point in the assessment process is a proposal deemed to be NFFC?


After the closing date for minimum data, conflicts of interest are managed, and an independent chair and panel members are assigned to each grant assessment committee (GAC). Although the number of members vary between GACs, the MRFF aims to have four panel members on every GAC. Spokespeople are assigned to each application on each panel.


After applications have been determined as meeting the eligibility criteria (this is the first point where NFFC can happen), applications are then read several times: the first read focuses on clarity in argument, readability, formatting, and the use of schematics to leverage the reader’s understanding, and the second is where the initial scoring is individually made by panel members. Those scores are collated, and a rank ordered list produced. A scoring cut off is decided by the NHMRC and applications scoring above this cut off proceed to the grant assessment panel for discussion while those scoring below it are deemed as NFFC


Wake-up call

Being NFFC’d is a disappointing outcome after all the time invested to develop an application. However, savvy applicants can actually approach the NFFC as a bit of a wake-up call. After all, the harsh truth is that your application fell below the funding cut-point, meaning it wasn’t competitive and something must change in your proposal. Perhaps many things! So, after you’ve given yourself a day or two to regroup, it’s time to act.

Applications that are NFFC’d don’t receive any feedback, so it’s up to you to identify where you went wrong.


 

Here's our top four tips:


1. Don't blame the assessors


Avoid thinking the assessors scored you unfairly or blaming them for not understanding your proposal.

At GrantEd we use the term ‘grantscraft’ – the exceptional writing skills with which you clearly articulate the ‘what, why and how’ of your proposal and excite the assessors. Be critical - how is your grantscraft?


2. Check you meet the eligibility criteria and align with the purpose of the opportunity


When MRFF releases Instructions to Applicants for the next round of E-MCR Grants ensure that you read them closely. The guidelines can vary from year to year, including the objectives and intended outcomes, so before you put effort into revising your proposal, ensure that strong alignment remains. Even if your research is worthy of a Nobel prize, if it doesn’t meet the purpose of the funding opportunity it will be NFFC’d.


Check each of the eligibility criteria against your proposal, particularly the composition of your team that may need to change from your previous submission. For each of the streams there must be a specified proportion of ECRs and/or MCRs in the CI team (that proportion varied between the two previous rounds; 2022 vs 2023 submission). The passing of time since your initial submission means that you or your team members may no longer align with the ECR or MCR definition (Table 1), and team capacity and capability will vary with the addition and/or subtraction of team members. To ensure that you have a highly competitive team, secure the involvement of existing (and new) team members early so that you have a distinct advantage above other teams.

Definitions of ECR vs MCR:

ECR = ≤5 yrs post-PhD conferral, excluding career disruptions.

MCR = between 5–10 yrs post-PhD conferral, excluding career disruptions.

If applicants are >10 yrs post-PhD conferral, excluding career disruptions, they must be an AI not CI.

Table 1: MRFF definitions of ECRs and MCRs according to years’ post-PhD.


3. Avoid resubmitting your application without updating it


Great, you’ve confirmed your alignment and eligibility, and considered any necessary changes to your team. Now what?


Don’t be tempted to resubmit your proposal in its current form. Consider the following as you rework your proposal:


a) Does the unmet gap that you had previously proposed remain unchanged? After all, another 12 months have passed since your previous submission. Have there been advancements in your field addressing the problem? Update your literature review and ensure your justification remains unchanged.


b) Revisit the four assessment criteria: i) Research Impact, ii) Research Methodology, iii) Capacity, Capability and Resources to Deliver the Project, iv) Overall Value and Risk. The elements within each criterion can change between rounds, so familiarise yourself with the new instructions. It may help to structure your responses using the criteria elements as subheadings. Now read the category 7 descriptors for each of the criteria, so you know what the assessors will be looking for. It may help to imagine you are the assessor as you read your proposal: do your responses represent ‘exceptional’ arguments as required in the category 7 descriptors?


c) Critique the strength of your non-weighted sections. These sections deserve just as much effort as your weighted sections. Are you wondering why? Each of the non-weighted sections play key roles in the assessment process. For instance, the Overall Value and Risk section is used by assessors when considering the feasibility of your Research Methodology section, and the Measures of Success section is used during the assessment of your Research Impact section.


d) Given the weighting placed by MRFF on consumer and partner engagement in research, there is imperative in meaningfully engaging them across the life of the project, starting when the proposal is being conceptualised. Don’t underestimate the importance of this. Assessors can easily see when there’s tokenistic involvement of consumers and/or partners. And, for the first time in 2023, MRFF will be piloting the involvement of consumer representatives within the scoring process. To understand the type of questions that assessors will be considering as they read your proposal, please read our previous blog ‘How MRFF applications are assessed: knowing what works’.


4. Focus on your grantscraft Ok, so you have a highly innovative, creative and transformative proposal that has been co-designed with consumers and partners and promises significant outputs with substantial impact. Well, it’s time to be highly critical about your writing skills.


Have you read any successfully funded applications from this scheme? If not, contact your research office and/or trusted colleagues to access a successful submission. As you read it, focus on how they’ve argued their response to each of the sections, not just the weighted sections. Consider the alignment between the weighted and non-weighted sections. Identify the alignment between objectives and intended outcomes of their chosen E-MCR stream and their proposal. Reflect on the cohesiveness of each section and the translational nature of their proposal.


Have you sought feedback from your peers? The more ‘fresh eyes’ looking over your proposal, the more feedback you’ll receive. Seek input from some respected colleagues who are not in your investigator team - someone with recent experience on an MRFF E-MCR grant review panel (GRP) or with funding success is valuable. Given the involvement of consumer representatives in the assessment process, consider having a non-academic read your proposal. Can they understand what you are proposing? Ensure your entire application can be read by an educated layperson.

 

Having read our four top tips for revising your application that was previously NFFC’d, it’s time to get to work. Think honestly about whether it the strength of your proposal that let you down or if it was your grantscraft that resulted in the NFFC. Or if it was both.

If there was one final message from GrantEd (and there is!) it would be to not wait until the last minute. Developing competitive applications takes time, even for seasoned grant winners.






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