Most researchers have written a ROPE (Research Opportunity and Performance Evidence) Statement as part of a funding application. Many of these also admit that amidst the rush to meet deadlines, while juggling numerous other competing commitments, they are often written at the last minute.
The ROPE statement has been a part of Australian Research Council (ARC) and grant applications since 2011 and similar statements are requested by National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) applications as a way of recognising that not everyone is on the same playing field in terms of diversity of career and life experience. It ensures that the assessment process takes into account the quality of a person’s research over the volume of research they have produced.
With a strong focus on gender equality and inclusion, the Global Challenges Program is aiming to push ROPE back to the top of researcher’s priorities by hosting workshops on how to write them and what to include.
Global Challenges Leader, Professor Sharon Robinson from the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health (SMAH) , and Associate Professor Martina Sanderson-Smith from the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI) and SMAH, will be reviewing ROPE statements for Global Challenges researchers over the coming months to provide advice on how they could be improved. Assoc. Prof Sanderson-Smith is also on the review panel for National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Australia's largest health and medical research funding body.
“A well prepared ROPE statement provides important perspective about your achievements in relation to your broader career experience,” said Sanderson-Smith, “It is important to give panel members and assessors everything they need to advocate for your grant application and give you the best scores possible.”
The biggest piece of advice from Sanderson-Smith is to be specific, be positive and not to apologise.
“It is important to clearly articulate and, if possible, quantify how a relative to opportunity claim has impacted your career, but it is just as important to recognise how much you have achieved. Don’t undersell yourself."
ROPE is relevant to all researchers, but it is especially important to those who have experienced career disruption and reduced time in research. An obvious, and important example is those who have taken parental leave, or had a period of part-time work, however this is not the only example.
“Our best research workforce will also be our most diverse, and that means acknowledging the impact of primary carer responsibilities, ill health and disability on an individual’s research career,” said Assoc. Prof Sanderson-Smith.
Dr Holly Tootell is a Senior Lecturer from the School of Computing and Information Technology. She’s been at the University of Wollongong for almost two decades. She has four children under the age of 11 and has been attending the ROPE writing workshops.
“I’ve had significant career breaks over the last ten years and I also lost a mum during that time. I took six months off with every child, but every time you return to work you start from scratch again, unless you’re prepared to work through maternity leave.
“It’s not just the six months leave either, it’s whether it works with the funding cycles. [If] you have another child before the next cycle, you end up having to wait a long time before you can apply for funding again.
“You start to wonder whether you should just pack up. I’ve reached a point in my career where colleagues who started after me have now caught up or overtaken me and that can be disheartening.”
Dr Tootell says the guidance she has received during the ROPE sessions has been a massive learning, and encouraging experience
“The thing that changed my whole perspective on ROPE was sitting with someone at the workshop who actually got me to write down all my maternity leave breaks and time off.
“The minute I did that, a lightbulb went off. My full-time equivalent is three-point-four years effective full-time research in ten years.”
What Dr Tootell has achieved in just over three years completely changed the way she has been looking at her research career. She had landed over $200,000 worth of funding in that time, has had multiple outputs and her research is making impact.
“It was the first time I realised I was actually in with a fighting chance. If I’m describing all these outputs in a three year timeframe, well that’s awesome, that’s something I’m proud of.”
Dr Tootell is a teaching research academic who teaches three subjects a year, has a governance load and also spends 40 per cent of her time doing research.
“My research was never advanced enough to keep my research going while I was taking leave, and as I was the lead investigator, it was put on hold until I returned.”
She says one of the most difficult things she has had to deal with is that women aren’t allowed to rest and recover after having a child, and if you do, you do so it’s at your own detriment.
“Even when you return to work, after parental leave, you’re still not fully firing. When you’re a mum of a newborn, the toll it takes on your body and your mind is huge.”
Dr Tootell says it is possible to build a successful academic career, but only if you have a system that will support you to do both effectively.
“Right now, we have a system that forces us to keep proving ourselves time after time.
“I’m not prepared to sacrifice my family to climb higher in a career. I’ll do it slowly and I’ll do it effectively but there needs to be a different story written in academia.”
While ROPE isn’t perfect, and it might be difficult to fit all of these challenges into a paragraph, it is a step in the right direction to make sure everyone has an equal chance, no matter their gender, age, background or ability.
For people like Dr Tootell, it does so much more than justify why a project should receive funding for their research, it’s an acknowledgement of their motivation, commitment and resilience.
Dr Holly Tootell is an investigator on the interdisciplinary Gamifying Activity and Multi-sensory Room projects supported by Global Challenges.