DrKlapperich asked for input on the Twitts:

NIH grantees: Weigh in on the phenomenon of senior co-I’s piling onto an R01 with a PI who still has “new investigator” status.


I’ve noticed this with some jr colleagues in a couple of cases. Wondering if it was wide spread.

It would take some data mining from the NIH extramural office to determine whether there are any changes going on, of course. Hard to determine from the handful of colleagues that you happen to know and who happen to share their grant strategies with you.

There are at least three possibilities that spring to mind.

Number one, grant strategy from the more-junior investigator.
It has been a thing, since forever approximately, for junior investigators that they should involve a more-senior colleague to hold their hand. This was infuriating for me, certainly, when I started writing grants. The supposedly substantive reasons for this were vague and seemed to me to be very thin cover for an ill-considered StockCritique. A StockCritique of grants that, like so many others, appeared to me to be transmitted culturally down study sections without much examination. You can file it in the general category of “riskiness” that continually irritates me. It sounds good, right? “let’s not risk all this tax payer money on an untried investigator”. Sounds like due diligence. But when you think about the maturity of these people who have finally managed to land a faculty level job, start up their own program and (otherwise) put together a competitive grant application….risk?

No more so than for any applicant. That’s my view. However, there has always been an undercurrent of supposition that if a brand new Assistant Professor (or equivalent) has a senior colleague on their proposal for 5% somehow this make everything better.

So this may be one answer to the question in these much, much more competitive days for youngsters. They are larding their proposals up with senior collaborators to stave off the criticisms of “risk” associated with a junior PI.

Number two, more grant strategy from the more-junior investigator.
Science is becoming increasingly more collaborative and the most competitive applications are simply more likely to involve collaborative projects. Maybe….

Number three, grant strategy from the more-senior investigator.
The way the original Twitt phrased the question makes it sound like the impetus is coming from the more-senior person. The implication is that s/he is trying to take advantage of the ESI/ New Investigator policies at place in the NIH right about now. Policies that fund New or Early Stage Investigators applications preferentially. From the perspective of the senior investigator, it may not matter how the money comes into the lab, the major factor is that the money DOES arrive. Who cares who the PI is? Maybe this is good for everyone (see above) and maybe it is exploitative. That will come down to specifics.

The factor that more concerns me is the drive at the NIH to kill the rich. We’ve been discussing this set of proposals that are targeted at making sure those who are successful at present don’t become too successful. or something. One clear response of the senior investigator is to hide the amount of NIH money that is supporting his/her lab by getting it through collaborations. Anything that keeps the senior investigator name off of the “PI” list would help. Sure, the NIH can always get down to the specifics of collaborative relationships but it is going to be hard to account for. Modular grants list percent effort for co-Investigators (as long as they are Key Personnel) but not specific dollar amounts. Who is to parse every grant application to try to figure out how many modules are going to be spent in the PI’s lab versus her close collaborator’s lab? How much percent to assign to the postdoc who is bridging the two labs?

So you are damn right that at present the smart senior PI will be looking to get onto as many other people’s grants as possible. A module here, a percent effort there….anything to keep the overall funding as hidden as possible. Driven 100% by all this discussion of capping the rich.

Sure, the current limits are unlikely to affect that many people and it is an unknown how many of those who trigger the special consideration will actually get denied. But why risk it? Who knows what the future holds? They may decide to get even stricter. So the smart money says to pile on to as many junior investigator grants as possible.

Sadly, this reverses a prior trend in which the more successful senior investigators in the departments went out of their way to try to bring the brand new people along under their coattails by writing them into the senior investigator’s proposals.