Explore as a

Information for panellists

Information for panellists assessing Rutherford Discovery Fellowship applications

The Panellists' Guidelines are available as a PDF: RDF Panellist Guidelines 2018

Proposal guidelines for Panellists

Background to the Rutherford Discovery Fellowships

The Rutherford Discovery Fellowships are administered by the Royal Society Te Apārangi (the Royal Society) for the New Zealand Government.

The Fellowships will develop and foster the future leaders in the New Zealand science and innovation system1. They will attract and retain New Zealand’s most talented early- to mid-career researchers and encourage their career development by enabling them to establish a track record for future research leadership. It is expected that Fellows, throughout their careers, will contribute to positive outcomes for New Zealand.

Receipt of a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship is expected to have significant value in the future career development and leadership potential of a researcher.


Assessment process overview (in brief)

The Royal Society Te Apārangi will appoint a selection panel, chaired by the President of the Royal Society, or their nominee, to oversee the selection process. The Chair of the panel will work with the Society’s nominated manager to determine the best process to be used. The assessment of proposals is a two stage process.

Stage one is the assessment of all proposals by three discipline-based panels. These panels do not meet; each panellist grades the proposals within their panel and then submits their grades on an electronic form. All proposals are graded against three criteria and panellists are obliged to consider the three applicant-solicited referees to produce their final scores for the applicants.

Once the overall scores from the panellists have been received, the Rutherford Discovery Fellowship Secretariat will produce an ordered list of applicants with the highest grades from each of the discipline-based panels. These top ranking applications will form the Long List for consideration by the interview panel. The number of applicants from each panel on the Long List will be determined by the number of proposals submitted (Table 1).



Number of proposals submitted to each discipline-based panel

Number of proposals submitted (% of total)

Long List (number)

















Table 1.         Example distribution of proposals if 162 applications were to be received.


RDF ProcessFlowchart 560x185

Figure 1.       Process flow

Stage two is in two parts: (a) the assessment of the Long List of applicants by the interview panel; and, (b) interviewing a shortlist of applicants and making recommendations for the successful Fellows.  The Chair and four member interview panel will conduct the interviews.





Thu 01 Mar 2018

Proposals On-Line web-based application system opens.

Thu 12 Apr 2018

On-Line web portal closes at 5 pm (New Zealand Standard Time).

Thu 17 May 2018

Deadline for receipt of applicant-solicited referee reports by the Secretariat of the Rutherford Discovery Fellowships at 5 pm (New Zealand Standard Time).

Thu 28 Jun 2018

Last day for discipline-based panellists to submit their recommendations to the Secretariat.

Early Jul 2018

The long-listed proposals are sent to the interview panel.

Tue 07 Aug 2018

Last day for interview panellists to submit their recommendations to the Secretariat.

Mid Aug 2018

Interview panel selects a short list of candidates to interview.

Early to mid Sep 2018

Interviews conducted by the interview panel.  Dates to be confirmed.

Oct 2018 (TBC)

Results announced.

Table 2.         Timetable for 2018


Discipline-based panels (Stage one)

Each of the three research areas will have a discipline-based assessment panel.  The panel comprises of researchers who are experts in their field, have a broad knowledge of the research area and are experienced in assessment.  Panel members are appointed by the Royal Society of New Zealand under consent from the chair of the selection panel.  These panels are advisory only, providing recommendations on the relative merits of proposals to the interview panel.  The three research areas are:

Humanities and the Social Sciences (HSS)

Research related to the human condition or aspects of human society.

This includes, but not limited to: English; languages; history; religion; philosophy; law; classics; linguistics; literature; cultural studies; media studies; art history; film; economics; education; psychology (cognitive, social, developmental, organisational, community and health); cognitive science; linguistics; archaeology; anthropology; sociology; social, cultural and human geography; social anthropology; architecture, urban design and environmental studies; public health; nursing; public policy; marketing; political science; and business studies.

Life Sciences (LFS)

Research related to understanding the activities that occur in cells and tissues and the interrelationships between organisms and their environment.

This includes: physiology (plant or animal), pathology (animal or plant), pharmacology, molecular biology, genetics, cell biology, microbiology; neurobiology and neuropsychology (including animals as a model species for humans); animal behaviour; population biology genetics; functional genomics and related bioinformatics; biostatistics and modelling; animal, plant and microbial ecology; biogeography; biodiversity; phylogenetics; systematics and evolution; biophysics, chemical biology; and biochemistry.

Physical Sciences, Engineering and Mathematics (PEM)

Research related to the physical world and mathematics.

This includes: physics; physical chemistry; organic chemistry; analytical chemistry; inorganic chemistry; pure and applied mathematics; statistics; logic, theoretical and engineering aspects of computer and information sciences; complexity theory; operations research; nanotechnology; software and hardware engineering; applications and robotics; materials science; engineering (including bioengineering and other cross-disciplinary research activities); geology; geophysics; physical geography; oceanography; hydrology; meteorology; atmospheric science; earth sciences; astronomy; and astrophysics.

Assessment of proposals

Each panel member will receive a set of books and a CD containing the applications for their panel.  Panel members are asked to read, assess and grade each proposal based on the three selection criteria, taking into account the applicant-solicited referee reports.  Proposals are to be assessed by panel members exclusively on the information provided in the proposal and referee reports.

Panel members also need to identify proposals for which they have a conflict of interest, explaining the nature of the conflict (please refer to Conflicts of interest).

For a given panel, each panel member will be asked to start reading applications at different points through the order of the proposals, to avoid proposals from institutions or researchers first in the alphabet always being read first.

It should be noted that these discipline-based panellists return their grades to the Rutherford Discovery Fellowships Secretariat and do not convene for a meeting.  The collated grades from the panellists will be used to create a ranked list of applications to be considered as the Long List.  This Long List is reviewed by the interview panel.

Each panel member will receive an electronic form on which to record their grades.  The spreadsheet should be completed and returned to the Rutherford Discovery Fellowship Secretariat by the due date.


Consideration of referee reports

Applicant-solicited referees are used for the assessment of proposals in conjunction with the selection criteria.  Where referees disagree, the panel members must use their own judgement in determining which referee reports to emphasise and what score to assign.  These deliberations should be guided by considerations such as: the panel member's own level of expertise on the subject; the comments made by referees to explain their grades; the relative competencies of the referees; and, possible conflicts of interest.



Rutherford Discovery Fellowship applications are graded on the following criteria:


Research Quality

Leadership Quality

  • Calibre of the applicant as a researcher
  • Calibre of the research programme the applicant intends following while a Rutherford Discovery Fellow
  •  Calibre of the applicant as a research leader, which may include:
    • Vision for their field of work
    • Entrepreneurial activity
    • Team leadership
    • Knowledge transfer activity

Table 3.         Assessment criteria

In the case of applicants of the same calibre, preference will be given to applicants who:

  • do not already have tenure or equivalent, or
  • who are living overseas and will use the Fellowship to return to New Zealand to continue their research careers.


Proposals are assessed on the information provided in the application, the accompanying forms and the applicant’s self-nominated referee reports.

For the current funding round the following weightings will be used:

  1. Calibre of the applicant as a researcher                                   60%
  2. Calibre of the applicant as a research leader                            20%
  3. Calibre of the research programme                                         20%


Panel members must consider applicants track record in relation to the years of research experience, which should exclude periods of parental or/and medical leave outlined in section 1e of the CV.

The Vision Mātauranga and budget sections (the budget is supplied in the electronic version of the proposal only) are included for panel members’ perusal but are not to be graded.


Panel members may wish to consider the following as a guide for assessing the three criteria.

1.                   Calibre of the applicant as a researcher

Consider if the applicant’s career is exceptional for a candidate in this discipline, at their career stage.

Exceptional may be determined by consideration of the merit of the applicant’s career to date and how the research compares with other New Zealand or international research in the same field.  If the applicant is at the start of his or her career the calibre must be assessed in relation to the years of research experience.  The curriculum vitae, supplied by the candidate in Section 4, should address the calibre of the applicant as a researcher.  Some expected sources of evidence include: awards/prizes; invitations to editorial boards or keynote addresses at conferences; publication record; patents awarded; and, referee reports.

2.                   Assessment of the applicant’s leadership quality

Consider the leadership qualities you believe the applicant possesses, or the potential they have. 

Expected sources of evidence may include but are not limited to: team leadership roles; project management responsibilities; quality of stakeholder relationships; student numbers and completions; external grant funding as a named investigator; presence in relevant research communities; invitations to present keynote or plenary presentations; collaborator networks; significant contribution to achievement of commercialisation milestones; entrepreneurial activity; knowledge transfer activity; indications of peer-esteem; thought leadership (e.g., conceptual development of a research field internationally); leadership across Māori and other communities; direct policy facing or public engagement work; referee reports; and, performance in selection interview.

3.                   Assessment of the proposed research programme

Consider the merit of the proposal and the potential of the research.

Merit may be determined by the applicant incorporating originality, insight and rigour.  Please consider the ability of the researcher to carry out the research.

Potential of the research may be assessed from the work outlined in Sections 8-10 of the proposal.  The research should significantly contribute to advances in theoretical understanding, develop new methodologies, contribute to new knowledge, or lead to advancement in a field by cross-fertilisation with ideas and results from another field.  Often the design and planning of a programme of research determines its success.  Good design and planning are determined by whether the overall proposal and its specific objectives have a clear focus, and the methods and experimental or sampling design are likely to produce high quality results.  Expected sources of evidence include: evidence of host support; and, referee reports.

Grades and distribution

There are six scores available; 1 (excellent) to 6 (room for improvement).  Each criterion should be assigned one of the six scores.  Each panel member can use the following target distribution for the proposals that they assess.









% of proposals







Example (60 proposals)







Table 4.         Target distribution.

In the example above where 60 proposals are assessed, between 6 and 12 proposals should be assigned a score of 1, between 9 and 15 proposals should be assigned a score of 2, between 12 and 18 proposals should be assigned a score of 3, and so on.

Amount of funding to be allocated

The scheme will award a minimum contribution of $70,000 per year towards the researcher's salary, $60,000 in research related expenses, and $30,000 per year for the host organisations to support the Fellow’s research programme.

Grading and recommendation to the interview panel

Once the overall scores from the panellists have been received, the Rutherford Discovery Fellowship Secretariat will produce an ordered list of applicants with the highest grades from each of the discipline-based panels.  These top ranking applications will form the Long List for consideration by the interview panel.  The number of applicants from each panel on the Long List will be determined by the number of proposals submitted.

Interview panel (Stage two)

The Chair and four member interview panel will conduct the interviews.  This is a two part process:

  • The interview panel assesses the Long List of applicants with the highest ranking grades from the discipline-based panels and will create a shortlist of applicants to be invited for interview.  The applicants called to interview will be the highest ranked by the panel and does not need to reflect the number of proposals in a particular discipline
  • The interview panel will conduct interviews and recommend the successful applicants for the Fellowships.


The Chair of the interview panel is responsible for the effective conduct of the assessment process.  This post will be filled by the President of the Royal Society or their nominee.  Each panel member needs to ensure that the funding recommendations made are defensible by ensuring the framework for assessment is followed and identifying, and taking appropriate action, over conflicts of interest.

Each applicant will be asked a series of questions in an allocated 20 minute interview.  Overseas applicants will be interviewed using either teleconferencing or video-conferencing facilities.

The recommendations of the interview panel for successful applicants are ratified by the President of the Royal Society of New Zealand.


Royal Society Staff

It is not the role of Royal Society staff to make funding decisions.  Rather, their role is one of facilitation of and "guardianship" over the assessment process, ensuring that the process is credible and defensible.  To achieve this, staff will:

  • organise all logistical aspects of the process;
  • assist the panellists and Trustees in determining realistic timetables for meetings;
  • provide a framework for assessment;
  • record funding decisions and collate generic feedback for applicants;
  • record any conflicts of interest and identify problem areas;
  • convey funding decisions to applicants and their host organisations - all discussions related to a decision should occur through Royal Society staff; and,
  • negotiate contract details with host institutions.

Sensitive issues


The Royal Society has obligations under the Privacy Act to keep confidential certain information provided by individuals. Moreover, the records of deliberations by panels are regarded as strictly confidential; as are the contents of applications.

  • Panel members should ensure the safe keeping of all applications and related confidential documents (e.g. applications, referee reports, scoring spreadsheets or summaries).
  • At the conclusion of the panel meetings and the interviews, members should leave documentation with the Royal Society staff and destroy any documentation remaining elsewhere.
  • Panel members should not enter into correspondence or discussion of the contents of the applications with referees, third parties, or the applicants. Any necessary correspondence shall be addressed by the Secretariat of the Rutherford Discovery Fellowships.
  • The intellectual property of the ideas and hypotheses put forward in the applications should be treated in strict confidence.


Conflicts of interest

The Royal Society takes the issue of conflicts of interest very seriously. A rigorous position is taken in order to maintain the credibility of the allocation process and to ensure that applications are subjected to fair and reasonable appraisal.

The Royal Society wants to ensure that the panel members are active researchers with an excellent background in research. As these researchers will invariably have connections with some applicants, conflicts of interest will arise. Where these occur for panel members, the following rules will apply.
  • All conflicts of interest must be declared in writing to the Royal Society. Royal Society staff will minute all conflicts of interest and actions taken.
  • Where a panel member is a family member or close friend of any applicant(s), that person will not assess the proposal or interview the candidate and take no part in the consideration of that proposal. They will hear about the outcome of that proposal when official letters are sent to all applicants.
  • If a panel member has an interest in an application, such as collaborating with an applicant or an applicant’s group, or is conflicted with the applicant* then that member shall not assess the proposal or interview the candidate.
  • A panel member cannot be a referee for any applicant in the current funding round.
  • If the interview panel Chair has a conflict of interest then the duties of chairing the interview shall be passed to another panel member.

*A panel member is generally deemed to be conflicted if:

  • They work in the same department as the applicant(s). Where the department is large and contact between the panel member and applicant(s) is minimal, the Chair may deem there to be no conflict.
  • They work at the same CRI AND are in the same team as the applicant(s) (the level of conflict will depend on the size of the organisation).
  • They work at the same company as the applicant(s). The level of conflict will depend on the size of the company.
  • They have co-authored publications with the applicant(s) in the last 5 years
  • They have a low level of comfort assessing the application due to their relationship with the applicant(s).

When all conflicts of interest are taken into account, the interview panel Chair may decide that the remaining panellists’ expertise is not sufficient for assessment of a particular proposal. In this case, an additional opinion from an external independent person may be sought. Alternatively a panellist, who has previously left the room, may be asked to return to answer technical questions only.


In the Proposals On-Line web-based system, applicants are offered the option of receiving feedback in the form of quartiles for the three graded criteria at the conclusion of the funding round. A general statement about the funding round will also be prepared and given to all applicants.
Applicants will also be notified:
  • if the applicant was successful in making the Long List.
  • if the applicant is considered ineligible to apply for a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship.

Disposal of applicant proposal matter

Referees are asked to return only the completed Referee report form. Please destroy all proposal material once your report is completed.


If you require further information about the Rutherford Discovery Fellowships, please email us at rutherford.discovery@royalsociety.org.nz or phone 04 470 5764.