NIH Multi-PI Grant Proposals.

February 24, 2014

In my limited experience, the creation, roll-out and review of Multi-PI direction of a single NIH grant has been the smoothest GoodThing to happen in NIH supported extramural research.

I find it barely draws mention in review and deduce that my fellow scientists agree with me that it is a very good idea, long past due.


14 Responses to “NIH Multi-PI Grant Proposals.”

  1. Ola Says:

    Agree, MPIs are good (and I’m not just saying that because we have one), but the system ain’t perfect:

    (1) The rise of MPI grants has happened concurrent with less emphasis on program project grants in many NIH institutes. Is this good or bad? Certainly there was waste in the boom PPG days (unwarranted cores, etc.), but it’s unrealistic to think that an MPI grant can accomplish the same things as a PPG. If all we ended up doing over the past decade was replacing PPGs with smaller MPIs, was this a good thing?

    (2) Budget on MPI grants is not great. A modular budget split between 2 labs with modest salary support for both PIs doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room.

    (3) These things are an effin’ nightmare at the local administrative level. Indirects split between departments, multiple sign offs for everything, etc. In general there’s a lack of parallel administrative structures at the University level to allow multi-PI award PIs to get shit done. Multi-PI animal protocols from IACUC would be a good start. Same for biosafety and radioactive stuff. Space accounting is crazy when you start factoring in how many FTEs off of the award spend what % of time on which grant working in which room in a different department which is nominally assigned to the PI who’s not the contact PI.

    (4) I’ve seen the multi-PI system gamed by the whole “BSD who doesn’t want to let someone go” problem. Talented junior investigator who really should be submitting their own R01, probably wrote the bulk of the proposal and certainly will do all the work, but has senior colleague (often their own former mentor) as a co-PI. It’s a back-door way for the kid to get a grant, but it sucks for all concerned (except the BSD).


  2. drugmonkey Says:

    But Ola, before the “kid” didn’t get any credit at all (that was worth a damn). I see this as one of the major improvements.


  3. Evelyn Says:

    I agree – it’s one of the first things I suggest to my new faculty – partner up with an experienced PI in the institution for your first submission. It ups the investigator scores and the experienced PI is more vested in the proposal to give it a through review, inevitably making it better. They usually have some good preliminary data to contribute too. There are administrative issues to consider as Ola pointed out but when the story is “get an R01 in the next 2 years or you are fired,” team science may be the quickest way to accomplish that.


  4. Dave Says:

    “The Kid”. Fuck me Ola.


  5. @Dave:

    I’ve heard senior admin grant people refer to the newbie prof-types (people older & more experienced than me, with more publications, coming in as assistant profs so about 35 yrs old) as “baby PIs”……


  6. Anonymous Says:

    People still submit R01s as a single PI. I bet you didn’t get it. In DD you need chemist and xx-bio guy in said disease area


  7. […] I think that the multi-PI mechanism at the NIH may be a damned scam to convince junior people after 5 years of graduate school, 5 years of postdocing, and 2-3 years of riding the soft money […]


  8. Professa Says:

    Pairing a junior pi with a BSD can be a problem because the multi pi grant cannot benefit from esi/new pi status even if all the co-pis are new. So you would not get that 5% bump in priority score. And if you get that co pi grant you are no longer an esi/new pi so you’ve lost the chance to get the 5%bump.
    This is an important issue to strategize.


  9. Odyssey Says:

    While that is certainly true, given the current climate the strategy needs to be “what is most likely to get me funded.” That may mean giving up ESI/NI status to pursue a MPI R01. Much will depend on how MPI grants are viewed at the n00bs institution.


  10. Potnia Theron Says:

    Professa & Odyssey, in my experience an MPI means that everyone is a PI, and the “babies” get an important boost on CV.

    But… if you are at an MRU that expects 50-60% of salary, and you feel you can’t justify going beyond modular, this becomes a problem in survival terms.

    Young faculty have to be akamai and saavy about dealing with the Elders and the BSD’s of this world, but that is nothing new.


  11. Evelyn Says:

    Professa – not to worry, we use all of the strategies. My new PI’s probably submit 6-7 R01s a year, so some of those are single PI and some are MPI. We try to maximize our chances any way we can. But the reality is – if this is your first year at the job, you will not have the data nor the publications to elicit enough confidence to get the R01.


  12. drugmonkey Says:

    if this is your first year at the job, you will not have the data nor the publications to elicit enough confidence to get the R01.

    Beware of absolutes. RePORTER is full of data that falsifies this claim. It is not common but it can happen.

    One of the reasons *not* to wait as a newly minted Assistant Prof is that the passage of time also elevates the expectations of those favorably disposed toward the new PI. A little bit of Preliminary Data in the first year is way more amazing than the little bit of data in year 4. A reviewer can argue taking a flyer on an amazing idea/proposal that lacks preliminary data in year 1 but it is harder in year 3. There is no longer a built in excuse.


  13. Evelyn Says:

    I understand it is possible – but I have yet to see it. Usually the reviews come back with a “good idea but we need to see more.” Everyone hears the amazing stories – first year PI, A0 submission, 2nd %ile – but the reason they are amazing is because they are so rare. Maybe the study sections you serve on are different, but I have yet to see one of my PI’s get an R01 without a good chunk of preliminary data already in there.


  14. Crystaldoc Says:

    At study section, I have seen the MPI mechanism used not so much for a mentor/mentee situation but more often for 2-3 established folks in complementary fields. At least the more successful ones seem to be interdisciplinary. They don’t do so well if it looks like one PI has done all the work and others are just along for the ride. I do believe they are replacing P01s; nobody can get those anymore. A problem is that almost no matter how ambitious the plan and number of PIs involved, reviewers often recommend cutting the budget to modular. I don’t know how the science really gets done; I suspect a lot of the projects get radically reduced in scope after they are awarded with big budget cuts.


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