Thought of the day

September 15, 2015

If you are not the (or a) PI on a grant, you can be cut off of it at any time. 
Where do people get the idea they have rights independent of the PI’s plans?

32 Responses to “Thought of the day”

  1. Laffer Says:

    I am co-PI on an R01 receiving 50% from a subcontract. co-PI didn’t get her main R01 renewed, leaving the lab to run on the other grants 50%. Yes, the primary grant probably didn’t get renewed because good stuff was used to get the second grant, leaving less tasty preliminary data and ideas for what was the main R01. Yes, I am scared that the primary grantee institution will side with primary co-PI and ‘renegotiate’ subcontract. Yes, I need to secure my own line of funding when/if that happens.


  2. drugmonkey Says:

    If NIH, “co-PI” is meaningless. Are you multi? Or just the consortium PI?


  3. A. Tasso Says:

    Scenario posted seems reasonable to me. PI is “PI” for a reason. S/he gets to call the shots. A Co-I can’t just say “hey I need an extra $25,000” and expect the PI to accommodate the request. (And that is exactly what the Co-I is saying– “hey I am leaving for another institution so I need you to cough up some extra dough so I can stay involved”.) Fortunately it’s not personal. It just is what it is. Budgets are tight.


  4. Jim Woodgett Says:

    I must be doing this wrong. I’ve always respected sub award agreements in multi-PI grants where I’m the NPI and if there are cuts to the budget have made these proportionate across. Surely a large reason for inclusion of multiple PIs is to lend credibility and expertise necessary for conducting the study. The other names are not add-ons and come with expectations and real effort – it shouldn’t be bait and switch. Discarding the original plan for the sake of the nominated PI slaps the reviewers and the other PIs in the face. It may be legal, but it’s wrong.


  5. Jim Woodgett Says:

    @A.Tasso – you have it the wrong way around. The PI is changing institutions and taking the money with them – cutting out the co-I.


  6. Pinko Punko Says:

    Agree with Jim- allowed and right are different, though if subcontractor doesn’t do what they said or don’t make progress, that is a reason to cut off funds.


  7. A. Tasso Says:

    @Woodgett whoops I see it now, thanks for pointing it out. But I guess that doesn’t really change how I feel about it. The grant was awarded to the PI. If the co-I expertise is critical to one of the aims then the PI will probably have to figure out how to find someone else at the new institution that NIH (well, his PO really) will accept.

    Might be a different story with a MPI arrangement.


  8. Laffer Says:

    Yes, NIH. I am simply listed as ‘other PI.’ I should have said secure my own funding _before_ that happens.


  9. jmz4gtu Says:

    “The grant was awarded to the PI. ”
    -As DM is fond of saying, the awards are never granted to the PI, but rather to the institution.
    Does anyone think it would be useful for the co-PI to get the grants managers involved on her behalf?

    It doesn’t seem Kosher to me from the ethical standpoint. Why would the funds suddenly be limited just because the PI is moving? Unless there is some economy of funds being derived from sharing an institution, it doesn’t seem to make sense (unless the new uni’s IDCs are significantly higher, I guess?).

    Actually, how does that work when PIs change over. Do the IDCs go up and down accordingly? What about salaries (say a Uni with a higher min postdoc salary)?


  10. drugmonkey Says:

    JW- the point is that *you* make *your* choices based on your beliefs about the right way to administer the grant.


  11. Shrew Says:

    Jmz, as I recently learned myself when I left for this RAP position, a grant is typically awarded to one institution. If subcontracts are provided to a different institution for a co-I (like myself in this scenario), the total costs for the subcontract (DC and IDC) come out of the DC of the main grant. Thus, having a co-I at a different institution is an expensive prospect cutting into the DC of the award from the PI’s point of view, but worth it if they are invaluable to the project (humblebrag alert). This also means that any future grants I get with this collaborator as my Co-I, should I be so lucky to get any grants of my own, would pay out to him from my DC to cover the usurious IDC rate of my former ILAF. Which is a reasonable price to keep this BSD collab going, I think, but still a price.

    In this scenario, therefore, I could see that if departing PI has located an appropriate local collaborator at their new institution, it could be tempting to transfer the co-I status. But it seems like a bridge burny action and not very conducive to vertically ascending science.


  12. drugmonkey Says:

    The PO and the signing official of the U where the PI is moving from have to agree on the move. So some of this has been done. I would bet that the PO is not going to meddle in most cases unless the collaborating Investigator is one of their special folk.


  13. SidVic Says:

    I always tell people that right off the bat that they will want to cut me in year 3-4(or sooner) of the grant; its human nature. If they want my percent effort initially and it presumably helps get the dang thing then….
    on the other hand i make effort to continue to keep contributing as grant rolls along. If project goes different direction then i couldn’t complain if they cut my piece. Although i probably would depending if i feel rich or not.
    It is completely at discretion of PI ultimately.


  14. Shrew Says:

    Thanks DM. Not that I fully understand their verbiage but I will peruse again tomorrow when I will hopefully not have this migraine. This budgeting shit is nightmarish.


  15. Ola Says:

    FFS ppl, read the post!
    Co-PI means something.
    Co-I means nothing!
    As a Co-I, the OP has no case, get over it, sorry for your loss.


  16. drugmonkey Says:

    Co-PI means nothing. Multi-PI does.


  17. Ola Says:

    Yeah so you got me on the language parsing again.
    Correct, the official term in NIHspeak is “multiple PI”.

    Point is still the same though – multiple PI is required for example to have a leadership plan, with a specific section detailing what will happen if one of the PIs leaves for another institution. No such dispensation exists in the case of co-investigators.

    In my experience it’s been pretty easy to move grants with Co-Is on them, and simply find a new person at the new institution to take the place of the previous Co-I. A chat with the program officer before the move happens can be very useful.


  18. Co-I means nothing. Co-PI means nothing. Only multi-PI means something.

    But note that as a practical matter, even as a multi-PI, depending on your multi-PI leadership plan that was a required part of your awarded application, availability of recourse may be limited if the PI whose department/institution actually administers the award from NIH wants to reduce your funding. For example, the multi-PI leadership plan may state that in the event of a dispute between the PIs, the chair of one particular department will adjudicate. If the chair of that department agrees that your budget should be reduced, then your only further recourse is to go to the NIH program officer and complain. And that is pretty much a nuclear option, with little practical likelihood of success, unless the disputed action is to completely eliminate your funding. If it is a matter of reducing your funding by some percentage for some arguably legitimate reason, then there is little you can do.


  19. PepProf Says:

    I am contact PI for a multi-PI R01. I also recently moved institutions and cut out 2 co-I’s (from my old institution) as a result. They would have played minor supporting roles and they were replaced by people with equivalent expertise at my new institution. I (obviously) view this as a very acceptable course of action and have no ethical qualms about it. Neither did they. The idea that I would set up a new subcontract with my old institution just to accommodate these Co-Is when the job can easily be done within my new institution is sort of silly.

    On the other hand, the other PI’s budget was totally unaffected by my move (other PI is at an entirely different institution). I view this person as an equal and instrumental partner in the grant. Technically they are subcontracted by me, but I feel it would wrong to make any sort of unilateral decision on their portion of the award.

    Regarding Shrew’s comment on subcontract DC/F&A… it is untrue that subcontract F&A comes out of your direct costs. Well, technically it is true in the sense that your direct costs are increased in order to cover this. But at the end of the day NIH is the one providing the extra F&A money. It is set up this way to specifically make sure that the PI does not pay a penalty for subcontracting to institutions with high indirects. That is why, for instance, the direct costs for my grant exceeds the modular budget cap (the awarded DC is artificially inflated to cover my sub’s IDC).


  20. drugmonkey Says:



  21. PepProf Says:

    Also – totally agree regarding the so-called “Co-PI” designation. It is totally meaningless and I have no idea why NIH keeps it around. It just creates confusion. A Co-PI is in no way considered a PI and has no priveledges as such. I have heard many many people claim that they are Co-PIs on someone else’s grant. I am quite certain that in 9/10 cases these people are mistaken and are infact Co-Is.


  22. PepProf Says:

    Not much of counterpoint. Although I can accept that the main consideration should be how instrumental they are in securing the grant. Problem is, anyone COULD make the case that every team member is very instrumental (since there is no way of disproving).

    This also comes down to the norms of collaboration and even sub-field specific considerations. In my case, I had a Co-I that was simply put on there to beef up expertise because some review panel blowhard wanted a certain type of clinician (should have been a consultant really). Another was simply a middleman that was passing on fresh samples and needed to charge for the admin costs and minimal effort associated. These types of Co-Is could be found easily at my new University. In fact, in the latter case, the science dictated that we find someone closer to home. No way were going to compromise patient sample quality by freeze/thaw, mailing, etc.

    Point being, there is a lot of grey area here. Wilke’s tweets sound a bit sanctimonious to me.


  23. drugmonkey Says:

    Co-PI is not a NIH thing. It was missed/tolerated but not an official designation afaik.

    It was a scam designed by real PIs to induce more-junior scientists to do more work on the proposal or project and a fig leaf to help BSDs get more funding into their labs without appearing too thinly spread.

    Multi-PI, one of the best clear wins of NIH policy adjustment in my scientific lifetime, was designed in part to deal with this by giving the previously exploited junior scientist more credit.


  24. drugmonkey Says:

    PepProf- but you can imagine how a minor participant feels- if they were necessary to secure the funding, they have some rights to that funding. I have seen this expressed from Investigator to postdoc to grad to technician level. People who are named in the Justification often feel this is their personal and inviolate right to that funding when the grant is awarded.


  25. potnia theron Says:

    Also remember that a grant is a grant and not a contract. SA’s can be dropped and added by the PI with approval from NIH staff. Things become less feasible and other opportunities present themselves. Changing the *science* of a proposal is legit and often far more sensible, and can lead to differences in personnel.


  26. Louise Says:

    Co-I or Co-PI often come about when a postdoc cannot submit as PI, by institutional rules. It’s part of the 12-year-postdoc scam, wherein BSD get more funding and years to pay the postdoc under a fig leaf. In this situation, if PI leaves, the postdoc who originated, wrote and performed the work of the grant is left hanging, no money or attribution because co-I has no input.


  27. drugmonkey Says:

    Exactly Louise. It’s used as a scam on junior scientists.


  28. becca mcsnarky 4 this Says:

    Deja Vu!
    Crazy “Co-investigators” getting all Entitled. Did anyone check for blood coming out of a whatever???


  29. drugmonkey Says:

    Unexamined feelings of entitlement are the source of much friction in this career arc. You know what this blog is about, becca.


  30. Jim Woodgett Says:

    Learned a lot from this thread*. In Canuckistan, there is the same ultimate authority of the named PI but there is also an understanding/expectation that if a grant is funded then co-investigators will be accommodated fairly over its course. This reduces the celebrity addition/name-dropping of other investigators and any named co-PIs usually put in significant effort in writing and supporting the grant application, knowing they won’t be discarded.

    The funders like to ascribe a clear PI as they are not in a great position to adjudicate disputes but that doesn’t mean they condone the actions a PI may make. There clearly needs to be a single responsible individual and they must act responsibly. Typically, burning bridges is not an effective strategy when you’re in a career where you are constantly judged by your anonymous peers. We should also be encouraging meaningful collaborations.

    *E.g. as a reviewer (of US grants), I’ll be more likely to question the value of contributions of other investigators.


  31. Cassius King Says:

    @PepProf: Re: subcontract IDC’s, what you say is true only if the consortium (subaward) exists when the grant is applied for. In the case referenced here, where a new subcontract is generated on an existing grant to accommodate a moving collaborator, then Shrew is correct and IDC’s on the subcontract come out of the DC’s. I am aware of no mechanism to increase the size of an award after the fact to accommodate IDC’s at a subcontract institution, and it is not likely that the original institution wants to share theirs.


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