FAQs - Call for Proposals 2020

Q: What are the key changes from last year’s Seed Project Funding Round?

A:

  • SfTI is giving a higher priority to proposals that align with the technical themes of Sensors, Robotics and Automation (SRA) and/or Data Science and Digital Technologies (DSDT)
  • SfTI researchers who are currently funded by SfTI are not eligible to be funded on new Seed Projects, but can participate as unfunded team members, such as mentors.
  • The priority given to emerging researchers will apply to the whole team, including the PI (but excluding non-funded mentors)
  • Proposals will need to score a minimum of 3 points under the Vision Mātauranga pou assessment in order to achieve alignment to Vision Mātauranga, and thus be eligible for consideration to enter the Vision Mātauranga ballot.
  • Applicants are also reminded that SfTI is focused on the research aspects of physical sciences and engineering although it would be okay for the context of the project to be within another field such as health or biological sciences.

Team and eligibility

Q: What is meant by mentorship? Does the mentor have to be in science or project management?

A: If a junior researcher is the project leader, then a senior researcher could provide advice and support for them as they lead the project. This support could be technical support or project management support, whichever is needed to make the project work as smoothly as possible.

Also, the mentor person does not have to be 0 FTE, if they have a bigger role in the project; it is acceptable to give them some FTE, but this would disqualify the project from consideration under the emerging researcher priority.

Q: How does SfTI define an emerging researcher? Is there a cut off for defining an emerging researcher?

A: While 7 years of active research since finishing your highest degree is the strict definition, this is not too critical as long as you can show that you are early in your research career and the project is a chance to lead research for the first time. So make the case in the application that you are an emerging leader – this would be seen as a positive attribute even if you are slightly over 7 years since your highest degree. Given this flexibility, we are not going to differentiate between less 7 years at submission of your application and greater than 7 years at the start of the project. Also, remember that any project leader is able to apply – we are favour emerging leaders in the assessment criteria - but anyone is welcome to apply with their new science idea!

Q: Are PhD students eligible to apply as the Principal Investigator?

A: Yes, but we would expect them to complete their PhD before the project starts so that they can undertake the project as a postdoctoral researcher. We would expect to see in the project team that they have good mentoring and support around them. Please note that projects are only able to start once the full team is in place (e.g. completion of their PhD for a post-doctoral researcher).  

Q: Is there a minimum FTE for an Associate Investigator?

A: No, there is no minimum. Please note we prefer to see a few people working on significant FTE, rather than a lot of people at low FTE. However, the FTE should be appropriate for the project. For instance, if any researcher has low FTE, and their expertise is critical for the project, then that may not be a convincing team. The assessment panel will look at whether the research team is appropriate and compelling for what you intend to do.

Q: What does zero FTE for mentoring mean?  

A: We want active mentorship and we like the idea that junior researchers can lead a seed project, but we see that a connection to a mentor is very desirable at this stage of their career. The mentor is likely to be zero FTE as we only want to see FTE for the team of the researchers providing a substantive contribution to the research work. We do not want to see established researcher’s CV when they are not really contributing directly to the research in the project.

Q: Can we include an overseas researcher?

A: Yes, you can, but SfTI cannot fund an overseas researcher for their time. The project could fund some travel to visit them or them to visit you, but you would have to make the case in your application that the travel was critical for the project. The funding can be used for you to spend time with an overseas research group if there is critical expertise that you need to access off shore. You must explain in your application why it is critical to what you are trying to achieve. Also, the expertise provide by the overseas researcher should not normally be available in New Zealand.

Projects

Q: I am planning to do some social science projects but I am not sure if I am eligible?

A: SfTI wants to see projects that use social science methodologies and expertise to explore how to build New Zealand’s innovation capacity including the social dimensions of technology development and its uptake in alignment with the aims of the Building New Zealand’s Innovation Capacity (BNZIC) Spearhead project.

The project would need to focus on scientists. Industry people could be also be relevant if the proposed research was about industry relationships with science. For instance, the project should offer novel insights into how we build those relationships between industry and science.

Also, very importantly, any alignment with the BNZIC Spearhead project would be expected to be a secondary alignment, with the project having a primary alignment with one of the scientific/technical themes. So any methodology drawn from social science must be applied to a technical context.

Also, it is important to check that what you are proposing is not duplicated in BNZIC Spearhead project which looks across the SfTI Spearheads and Seed projects, and is focused on human and relational processes associated with these projects.  

Note: Applicants should contact SfTI for confirmation your project will achieve alignment to BNZIC Spearhead project.

Q: I am unsure whether to specify a stage gate date when I aim to complete, or when I am sure to complete? Or would it be possible to specify a date range?

A: This is a common issue and we expect a date rather than a range. We want you to undertake risky science, but we also want you to set timelines so that you do not “go down a rabbit hole” that ends up wasting time and resources. We would prefer the science to fail fast and then SfTI can then work with you to pivot to an alternative pathway. In your planning you need to set a reasonable end date by which your scientific process can be explored to a good extent such that you feel you should reach the goal if it is ever going to be possible. We would advise not to make this too early or you will put yourself under undue pressure! However, if too long then your project may appear less challenging to the assessors. Also remember, that pivoting is okay if the planned research does not work out but indicates that a different approach or direction is more promising. If you can foresee some alternative approaches or directions, try to build them into your research plan as options as indicated below.

Q: What is a pivot, and would you expect the pivot to be identified in the methodology/plan?

A: A pivot is a deviation from the original research plan that normally necessitates changes to the contracted critical steps or stage gate. It is not compulsory that you identify the pivot up front. Applicants should state the primary research path you want to follow.

However, if you can identify an alternate process or pathway for the research, then do this in the application - but we do not expect this. You can describe some options, and tell us what those options or pathways are. We want you to think about, and say upfront, what option you are going for, and that you might explore other options. However if you cannot do this, we do not want you to feel constrained to fit with the original plan. We want it to free up your science. Also, if you do state options up front then you may not need the pivot because you have already described another direction as part of your research plan.

Note that pivoting does not mean changing to a whole new project – it still has to be within the terms of the overarching objective you have stated in the proposal as trying to reach, and we would not expect to see lots of new expertise or resources requested as a result. Pivot are expected to be to a related or slightly different direction. If you hit an interesting new direction, which is unexpected when you started, we want you to be able to follow this (as far as budget will allow).

Note: SfTI is still learning how to make this work from a practical and contractual point of view.

Q: The What is the TRL and can you tell me about it?

A: Technology Readiness Level or TRL is a standard scale that can be found here.

SfTI is looking for projects and technology development at up to TRL 4, or at the proof of concept or laboratory validation stage. We are not looking to fund technology development that is beyond TRL 4 and well down the commercialisation pathway.

Q: Would a recommendation letter from industry be helpful to confirm the need of the research?

A: We do not expect to see recommendation letters from industry partners. If a company is keen to give support, it might suggest to us that the technology may be beyond the TRL 4. We’d also want to know why, if It is important to them, why are not they funding the research themselves? If the research is speculative but has the potential to open up a whole new area for their business, then this could be of value and appropriate for SfTI seed funding as we are really trying to fund early stage research. The involvement of a company might suggest the technology is further advanced than SfTI is looking to support.

Q: Where will my novel Intellectual Property (IP) for this project sit, and what about Spearhead projects?

A: The IP principles are the same for SfTI Spearhead and Seed projects. SfTI is a virtual organisation and we do not want to own IP. We want researchers and institutions to own and manage the IP as they are in the best position to do this. SfTI expects the project parties to work out and agree who will be the managing party for the commercialisation of IP.

We are not against publishing – we expect you to make plans for protecting the IP before you go to publication with those ideas. Your proposal should include results from a scan of existing technologies and patents in the field of interest if this has been done. Think about your idea and make sensible decisions that will not limit the potential for impact down the track.

Assessment

Q: Can you explain the Vision Mātauranga assessment?

A: Proposals will need to achieve at least three points in total to be considered as a genuine Vision Mātauranga aligned project, and thereby eligible to be considered for selection into the Vision Mātauranga ballot. We are assessing the Vision Mātauranga quality through three principles or pillars, called “pou” with the following level/points system:

  1. The level of incorporation of Māori knowledge in the proposal - applications can get up to three points.
  2. The level of relationships with Māori and participation by Māori in the proposal - can score another two points.
  3. The level to which the research will benefit Māori in some way - up to two points. This last one is about the priority or impact for Māori, so even if the project was not high impact it may be a high priority area for Māori, and so would get a point for that.

Based on these principles, the applications can score up to seven points for how these dimensions feature in the proposal. An application may not score all seven points and we do not really expect that it would. Applications should focus on the few areas where you are strong. We are realistic that projects may not spread across all the areas, or hit all possible aspects of Vision Mātauranga.

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