STA Member Skills Seminar: How to randomise small grants

STA Member Skills Seminar

To deepen knowledge and skills sharing across the Science & Technology Australia membership community, we are running this special ‘how to’ session on an issue that may be valuable to other members of the STA community.

The event will be highly practical – giving STA members insights and actionable tips they can implement.

If you have a pitch for a future Member Skills Seminar session, please get in touch at


STA Member Skills Seminar: How to randomise small grants

15 November at 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm


Please note this is an STA Members-Only event.


Title: How to randomise small grants

Session outline

Scientific professional societies often award small grants to support research – such as top-ups for PhD students or funding for pilot studies. The often-competitive process is ultimately decided by reviewers. But what happens when there are many worthy applicants?

When reviewers face difficult decisions, they may fall back on simple information, such as the applicants’ number of papers and grants. This disadvantages those who have had career disruptions and can lead to a snowball effect, where past success creates more success.

Some funding schemes use lengthy applications to help differentiate applicants, but the combined time-costs for both applicants and reviewers can be more than the funding awarded. And there’s no strong evidence that an intensive application process leads to better outcomes, which is likely because of the inherent unpredictably of science.

STA Board member Professor Adrian Barnett will present a ‘how to’ guide on why a society might wish to adopt a practice of randomising the final selection of small grants, and how to do it. In this approach, applications are examined by peer reviewers, but only to decide if they are fundable or not. Awards are then made at random from the fundable group. This can boost the diversity of successful applicants, reduce the length of the process and the chances of unwarranted biases creeping into the decision-making process.

The Statistical Society of Australia has successfully used partial randomisation to award small grants. This process has also been implemented by the New Zealand Health Research Council and is being trialled by other funders in Europe.

Our presenter

Adrian Barnett is a Professor of Statistics who has worked for over 27 years in health and medical research. He was the President of the Statistical Society of Australia from 2018 to 2020. His current research is on improving statistical practice to reduce research waste.