Multi-PI proposals (part 1)

May 22 2018 Published by under Uncategorized

NIH added a new category a while back: multi-PI proposals. NIH is making the distinction between roughly co-equals (ie co-PI) and folks who are senior and contribute to the work but are not taking a lead role (called co-I's). (My understanding is that co-PI counts towards tenure/promotion and co-I does not. YMMV).

The overview from NIH:

The multi-PD/PI option presents an important opportunity for investigators seeking support for projects or activities that require a team science approach. This option is targeted specifically to those projects that do not fit the single-PD/PI model, and therefore is intended to supplement and not replace the traditional single PD/PI model. The overarching goal is to maximize the potential of team science efforts in order to be responsive to the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

Here is the link to Policy notices, this year and last,  (1) and (2).

There is a lot of information here, with many sublinks.

For review criteria NIH says: "Standard NIH review criteria accommodate both single PD/PI and multiple PD/PI applications", there are a few additional requirements that feed into the review.  One of these is the Project Leadership Plans for Multiple PI Grant Applications. And, of course, there is lots of information and even some good examples.

Which brings us to a comment about writing length from girlparts was:

I never used to have this problem (being too long) -throughout school, early years of grant writing - page limits were never an issue. But lately, with the rise of the multi-PI proposal, it has become a problem for me. The scope of the science is bigger with two-three labs involved. If they are also cross-disciplinary proposals, they seem to require more background information. You might have one reviewer in your field, who wants all the nitty gritty experimental details, and then someone in the other PI's field who has no idea what you are talking about, or its significance without an overview of your whole field.


I wish I knew how to make it work. I'm thinking that I should take a similar approach to that of cutting down from 25 to 12 pages - mostly less technical detail?I'll try to step back a few levels and state the general goal of the experiment, and not so much of the how, with references to our previous studies. It's a multi-submission approach: if the reviewers come back with specific technical questions, they are the easiest kind to answer. Fingers crossed.

I think she hits it on the head. You cannot stint on the significance and innovation. And part of the significance is why this is a multi-PI proposal. I agree that reducing the technical detail to include more on the justification is probably the better road to take.

Yet, one important additional consideration is that if the project is too big, even with/despite multiple PIs, you can still be dinged for "over-ambitious" . It may be time to think about other mechanisms, such as program project grants (P-grants) or even just more than one R01. If you can't include the necessary information in the 12 pages, then either 1) you are stuffing in too much detail (and indeed, page lengths are your friend) or 2) the project is too big and you are stuffing in too much big picture.

One way to tell that your multi-PI proposal is Too Damn Big is if you can't figure out how to reduce it from 5 aims to 3. There is a lot of information/thought/chatter  on how many Aims is the Right Number of Aims. Make sure to read the comments, there is some very subtle NIH zen in there about substance versus organization of substance.




One response so far

  • Ola says:

    As someone who's had several of them over the past decade, the standout feature of multi-PI grants is once you've had one its realitively easy to get more. The multi-PI leadership plan essentially becomes "look, we've got this". Getting them re-funded for another cycle is also easier than single PI grants because you get to roll in publications from both labs to show the prior cycle was super productive. Before then, in terms of getting the first one, I would absolutely say pubishing stuff together with your co-PI is a requirement. Even if it's just a review article or editorial, there has to be something to dispell the thought that you just met last week and threw together an idea.

    So yes, a strong vote here for multi-PI projects. They work really well and have gotten us into scientific areas we could not have ventured into alone. However, these types of project are not without problems:

    (A) If your co-PI is at another institute, that means a sub-contract, which will almost certainly make for a non-modular budget. Even a modest modular project can balloon to >400k with a sub-con paying for a full post-doc and part of PI salary at another place. There'd better be VERY good justification for choosing that specific person as the co-PI (versus someone internal). In reviewing, I've seen some ridiculous budgets that involved cross-country flights every 3 months to exchange samples! Don't do that.

    (B) If your co-PI is internal, depending on your institute it can be a nightmare to divvy up the budgets, with different departments handling indirect costs in their own sweet way. Often you'll be dealing with 2 separate accounts (one per PI) and that makes charging common things like core-facility fees or animal costs difficult. Getting accurate ledgers is often delayed based on what the other lab is spending/documenting. It can also be awkward being involved in each others' finances - you will probably find out that your co-PI is paying their tech' too much, or you're earning way more than your co-PI at the same rank. You need to keep a close eye on your co-PI's finances, and be prepared for some awkward conversations when pay raise time comes around.

    (C) Authorships can still be a bone of contention. My co-PI and I have done fairly well by just alternating it, but this can sometimes produce weird results (like the time when all the work in a paper came from my lab but my co-PI was senior author because it was their turn). You need to also be careful to publish stuff that does NOT have your co-PI on, even if it's funded by the award, so you can maintain a veil of independence (this is especially important if there's a seniority gap).

    (D) Your Dean or Chair might not see co-PI-ship as a full grant (after all, they're only getting half the indirects compared to you each having your own grants). There's also the problem of the other support page - on paper it looks like you have a lot of support, when in reality you may only have access to a fraction of the overall budget for each award. This can be a pain when writing your own independent proposals.

    I would hesitate to hold a co-PI grant as my only award, or as a junior investigator pissing away your ESI status. But, if you've already got a solo-PI grant then a multi-PI can be a really good way to move your research forward.

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