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Planning for Your First R01 Grant Application

Thoughts from funded investigators on planning for an R01 grant, including the difference in preparation for an R01 versus an early-career research grant such as an R21.

Jessica Huber

DOI: doi:10.1044/cred-pvd-c16008

The following is a transcript of the presentation video, edited for clarity.

Introductory Slides

Kris Tjaden

So our first session this afternoon is sort of a forward-thinking one. At some point you will be thinking about and planning your first R01, and so these are some thoughts and a little bit of guidance and a perspective, as Jessica will say from her N of one and there are a lot of opinions and other input from others to talk about as well. I first have a couple of introductory slides or comments that I wanted to talk about.

This is a side-by-side comparing the early career R21 versus the R01. So you see the early career R21 talks about the budget, the timeframe—less than seven years after your terminal degree not counting your formal clinical training. The goal, and this is straight from the website, the goal is to collect preliminary data sufficient for an R01 application. And also directly from the NIH website, this is interesting, may be left immediately impactfully significant than an R01, and not expected that the project will move the field forward at this stage. I took that verbatim from the NIH website.

If you contrast that with the research project grant for the R01, this is an award up to five years. It doesn’t have to be for 5 years, could be four years. The budget is typically less than $500,000 annually in direct costs. If you need more than that, you need to write a letter and get some prior approval for that. It’s often investigator-initiated, meaning that this is an idea that you have it’s not necessarily related to a request for proposals or some kind of particular funding solicitation, but reflects your interests and competencies as a PI. It is more immediately impactful and moves the field forward relative to the early career R21. And generally is not just a scale-up of your preliminary studies, meaning more subjects. Also be thinking about that for these R01, that the number aims that you have and the scope of that project needs to be appropriate for your proposed time frame. Is it four years? Is it five years? As well as the budget to match. So just because you can ask for up to $500,000 in direct costs annually, doesn’t mean that you need to or should.

I think one of the challenges as new investigators to try to figure out when is the right time to start submitting and preparing my first R01? So clearly one of the important things is that your science is ready. These are all terms that you’ve seen. So your sciences at a point, you’re proposing something that’s impactful, significant, innovative—that’s really going to move the field forward. And thus it demands an R01 level time and budget. I think you know we’ve been talking a lot about these early career investigator awards, and the early career R21s, the K awards, but I would say and I think we may have seen an example of this earlier—do not discount the R01 as your first independent research grant. You may have received intramural funding, you may have received some foundation funding, and have an excellent, excellent publication record. To go with that, you may be doing science that is a very costly. And an R01 budget and scope may be appropriate for you. I would say that’s pretty rare. Maybe even exceptionally rare. But don’t discount it. So the science needs to be ready. And I would say along with that, obviously you’ve published preliminary studies in excellent journals, if you’re thinking about an R01.

So not only does the science need to be ready but the investigative team and the environment needs to be ready. What do I mean by that? Ideally the key members of your collaborative team have a track record of collaboration. And when I say track record, I mean ideally you publish together to show that you so what’s involved in working together, and show that you can work together. It’s nice now that the biosketch —the revised biosketch that goes into effect here in May—will now allow you to talk about conference materials and works in progress. And I think that’s important because those collaborations can be very meaningful, and often and should lead to published work. The best evidence of collaboration that your research team can work together is a published study though.

Also relative to team and environment—you’ve demonstrated that you have access to the subject population that you want to study or the animal population. That the clinical facilities and the infrastructure are in place, and institutional support are in place.
And then ideally the PI has had prior early career stage funding, and again this may be internal funding at your institution, foundation funding or some of those federal funding agencies that were talked about. And I think you got that sense today that NIH and NIDCD are very interested in seeing that progression from an F to maybe a K or an early career R21 and an R01. That is viewed very favorably not only by the Institute but I think also by reviewers.

Very importantly, when you’re thinking about the right time for submitting your R01 you want to be very cognizant of what your expectations are at the institution you’re at. Is there an expectation prior to tenure and promotion that you have submitted or secured an R01. And you need to factor that in your timeline as well. Some places it’s not an expectation, and if your science isn’t ready, you don’t want to just submit something because it was, “oh I think I should be doing it now.” You really want the science to be ready. Other places it is an expectation that you will have submitted one, and in some instances secured an R01, and you want to be very planful thinking about that.

A couple of comments that came up: There these two categories relative to right time and R01, some terms that came up today. And the first one is this idea of a new investigator. So this is somebody who is not a previous principal investigator on NIH supported research projects other than these mechanisms. So the R00 on the R03, R15, Fs, Ks and so forth. So that’s a new investigator. Then there’s a category of early-stage investigators or ESI. So an early stage investigator is a new investigator who has completed their terminal research degree or medical residency within the past 10 years, whichever is latest. This is calculated for you, you don’t need to figure this out. You enter your data into the NIH Commons and it will calculate it for you. And I heard this question come up today and it’s worth reiterating: there are multiple PI applications that people submit. If you’re trying to protect your early-stage status, you should think very carefully—so all PIs on your grant, not a co-investigator, not a collaborator, but all PIs on the application must meet this definition of new investigator or early stage investigator for it to have that status. And also NIH expects that early stage investigators will constitute the majority of those new investigators.

So why do you care about this? Why does new investigator or early stage investigator matter? It has implications for review. The review panel is made aware ahead of time of applications with new investigator/early stage investigator status. That shows up: this is a new investigator, is an early stage investigator, at the time the assignments are made. And then very importantly on at the on-site meeting, grants are clustered. So R01s from experienced investigators or experience PIs are discussed separately as a cluster or a group. And the new investigator/early stage investigator R01s are discussed as a group. Reviewers also receive instruction on site about the definitions of new investigator/early stage investigator, prior to discussing those applications, and usually it’s something like, “Remember these are early stage investigator we blah blah…” So we’re reminded of that, and you’re reviewed in your own separate cluster.

This also has implications for funding at NIDCD that’s specific to NIDCD. And apologies this is straight off their website, but I think it was important not to paraphrase here. So NIDCD has these established procedures and funding policies which they don’t elaborate on those, but they have these policies to ensure that adequate numbers of new investigators and early-stage investigators are supported. It’s one of the criteria used in funding decisions made at the Institute. The Advisory Council that you’ve heard a little bit about, and you’ll hear more about tomorrow morning are actually encouraged to identify those individuals and give them special consideration for funding. And very importantly so to have this new investigator in early-stage R01s are generally reduced less than other and NIDCD-funded applications. You may have requested your $500,000 budget. And if you’re an experienced PI, in all likelihood that budget is going to be reduced by maybe 15 percent when they actually go to make the award. But if you’re an early stage investigator who’s gotten that R01 with a $500,000 direct cost budget each year, you’re not going to take that same cut, that same hit. So there are good reasons to be aware of those deadlines in that status.

So I’m happy to introduce Jessica Huber who is going to talk a little bit more about the nuts and bolts of actually the submission process and thinking about things.

Start with Thinking Strategically

Jessica Huber

So I’m going to talk about how I do this and how I see it, but I’m interested that other experienced investigators, particularly ones that are pretty close to just doing an R01 might bring up how they handle this. We’ve been talking to a lot about K awards and R03s and those early investigator R21s, and you’re wondering why are we bringing up R01s. You need to think strategically.

Even though you’re not going to submit an R01 tomorrow or when you get back. You need to start thinking about your career trajectory so you’re ready for an R01 when the time comes. Because you certainly don’t want it to stop at these early stage funding mechanisms.

I didn’t do a great job at this I don’t think is a doctor I don’t think I understood this is a doc student but I think I’ve gotten better at thinking strategically as my career’s progressed. And the things that I think about are my motivation: what am I motivated to do? What’s exciting to me, what gets me out of bed in the morning—what wakes me up in the middle of the night in a good way.

Innovation. How can I be innovative? What are things that I do or I think about that other people aren’t thinking about in the same way?

And then significance. What’s significant in the world, what’s significant my field? What needs attention and how do these three things gel together?

You might decide to use your dissertation or whatever your last grant is as a jumping-off point. NIH likes to see this program—we all like this, it’s not just NIH. I should say, the research field like to see programmatic research you have a problem, you study it programmatically. You don’t do, you know, topic A and then the next grant is on an entirely different topic. That’s kind of a scattered way to manage your research career. It’s better if you have a program of research, where things that you do are related to one another. That questions in your next grant came out of something you did previously. Doesn’t have to be, but it’s nice.

What I see with people who don’t do that is they end up trying to spread themselves too thin. So you’re trying to stay up in the literature into different fields. You’re trying to write grants and get published in two disparate fields. You can do that when you get a little farther along, when you’re a full professor maybe you can pull that off. When you’re an assistant professor that’s the recipe for disaster.

So here’s my personal example. I graduated from my PhD program, I got a job at Purdue. My first semester kind of like was probably the third week of August. Anne Smith, my department head, stopped by to see me and said, “You know what you should do this semester? You should write an R03.” And I said, “Okay, I’ll write an R03.” So I thought to myself, what would I write it about? So I picked something that didn’t come from my dissertation, but came from some of the work I did earlier in my PhD career that interested me—some research I’ve been involved in Parkinson’s disease. And I thought that the patients are really interesting, really cool and interesting. And that really motivated me to understand. I liked reading that literature. And I thought to myself, what do I do well? What I do well is I’m really good at respiratory physiology. and laryngeal physiology, physiologic, kinematic measures. And so I thought, well I have some pubs in that, that’s been my area, that’s what I was trained to do. That makes a nice preliminary study section for an R03, how can I apply that to something I’m really motivated to look at. Well, we have no idea what happens when these patients breathe or talk. There was one study and a tiny little one that I did as one of my prelim projects. So there was almost no literature on this, it was really important. And I thought about something I’m really interested in is how we can tax the system. And so I thought about this idea of looking at different cues for loudness. How do you make people talk louder? Which is a primary cue in treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

And I did that study, and we found a certain cue was better than other cues. And I was really interested in treatment. I’ve always been a speech pathologist at heart, I love treating people, making treatment better. So I wanted to do a treatment efficacy study. So I took these three things: This thing I’m really motivated in, and I built my R03 around something I knew how to do, something I was interested in, and a population that I was motivated to work with. And I took the results of that R03, and I used the publications for my R03 to motivate as preliminary studies from my R01. So it makes—it a trajectory. Now I can take my R01, the things I found there, and at this point it’s hard to choose which thing to do, because there’s a lot to do. But I can now take the studies from my R01 and write a continuing R01 or a different R01. So I get this nice program going—I don’t have to start over in an area.

So you might not want to do that. So just to give you an idea of the scope. My R03 was two aims—an exploratory aim, which I learned here at this meeting, you never have an exploratory aim. So don’t have an exploratory aim. I don’t know why I did that, I didn’t know. I planned for 60 subjects, started writing them, realized that we needed to also look at what happened with young adults, so I ended up running 90. But it was just one session of data for each person—with a lot of data, I mean I’m still, I can still go back and pull little pieces out of that.

My R01 was five aims. I planned for 30 subjects, they were more variable than I thought, I ran 45. Because the power just wasn’t there at 30. These subjects had nine to nineteen data collection sessions for each of them, depending on group assignment. It was a treatment study, so the scope is much larger.

The Process: Critical Components

So what’s really critical? I feel like it takes longer than students tend to anticipate, or new faculty tend to anticipate. It certainly took me longer it always—now I kind of know how long it’s going to take, and it’s depressing it takes so long. But I was glad to see that Richard takes as long as I do, so I don’t feel so bad. So you’ll run into these really experienced grant writers who will say like, oh I write my grant in three weeks. That’s not me. That’s not almost everyone in this room does not write their grant three weeks. Okay, well good, everyone is saying no.

Ask for examples of funded grants. Don’t be shy. In fact I’ll tell you all right now my R01 is in the old format—you probably don’t want to see it, but if you do you can have it. I have a funded SBIR. You write an SBIR, write to me, I’ll give it to you. If you just want to see how I write, people will give you their grants. So you want funded grants, not unfunded ones.

Get lots of feedback, and listen to the feedback. If someone gives you feedback that you don’t like to hear, and I got a lot of feedback that was tough to take. Kris Tjaden was on my PhD committee, she read my R03 like an R03 reviewer twice. It was so hard to read those reviews. But so important. Anne Smith read them and said—she read my R03 and said, “No. This is just not going to work. You need to start over.” And I did, and you do, and you just take it. And you have to remember these are the people who are invested in your future. Lisa has read my grants, and she’s had to say really—my R01, she had to say really really horrible things. Really really hard things. So did Karen Kirk. Karen read my Rr01 and had to say, “yikes.” You know, but you take it and listen to the feedback. And do what they tell you to do. Even if you think they’re wrong, they are right.
Make sure you are cognizant of your repeat reviewer pool. Notice that I use people at my institution, someone would who would have to recuse herself anyway, because she was on my PhD committee. Notice that I use people totally out of my area. No Parkinson’s into adults. But she had great in insight. Karen is hearing and cochlear implants. Great insight. Use these people from outside. And choose people who will be honest. You know that person on your PhD committee who always smiles, and no matter what you do, “You did a great job. This is just great.” Don’t have the read your grant. You want the person who’s on your PhD committee and Kris is so honest and I value, I can’t tell you—this is not a knock, but she always tells me when I have messed up. When this work is not good enough she’s never said like, “Oh you did so good.” That’s not the person you want.

So my process. I start with the specific aims. I’m a little crazy about specific aims. I will write them even if I’m not writing a grant. If I just have an idea, I write them. I present my ideas. We have a brown bag at Purdue, and I did this with my R01, I presented my R01 ideas really early, like way before I was writing, I was presenting and talking about my specific aims. I asked people to review just the specific aims page: Does this even seem like a good idea? I revised. I revised my specific aims. The last thing I did before that went out was revise my specific aim.

You’re going to write your full draft in segments. Use some people to review segments. So someone who’s really good at framing work, that’s a person who should read your significance and innovation. Someone who’s like that person who’s a stickler for approach and methods, finds like every hole in every study—that’s the person should read your approach.

Present your ideas. I did I presented like, “here’s what I think I might do” at the brown bag and everyone said, “oh don’t do that, do this. Oh, don’t do that do this.” And it was really helpful.

Make sure your aims fit into your budget and your timeline. So don’t wait until the last minute to find out that you don’t have enough time to do all your aims.

And then start a complete grant review very early. And while you’re waiting for that you can start writing like your environment or your facilities, or your equipment. That kind of stuff. But the grant can’t wait.

Timeline for Writing

This is my timeline. you can throw it out. It’s just what I do, and the time is flexible so this one year in advance—that could be extended a little bit. I probably start that two years in advance. So we have a grant we’re going to write this year, we’ve been planning it for a couple years. Because it’s a big one and takes more time. I’m reading, I’m looking through all the grant calls, I’m looking through the NIH Reporter and seeing if other people are doing what I’m doing. I’m identifying my collaborators and testing them out and seeing how it’s going to work out. We’re collecting pilot data, way early. By six months in advance I’m ready to start writing. I’m drafting those specific aims. I’m calling my program officer. Five months, I have a skeleton of my methods and my timeline. They might not be written but I know how things are going to fit in my timeline. That’s really critical. So my aims are feasible.

And I contact at that point, way in advance, look. I’m contacting my university sponsored programs. And on this item, also talking to my chair there. What if I need extra support? What if I need space or time or something? That’s the time to start talking to people.

Four months in advance, I’m drafting my significance and innovation. I’m getting them reviewed.

Three months in advance I’m writing the approach, the preliminary studies, getting those reviewed. Writing my biosketch. I write my biosketch for every grant. I don’t have a biosketch that just goes in for grants. You can’t do that, you have to be specific to your grants.

Two months in advance, I have a whole draft done. Every time, two months in advance that grant is drafted front-to-back, all of the parts. And it’s getting fine tuning my budget. I’m talking to sponsored programs, and working on getting it reviewed.

And then the whole month before it’s due I’m going line by line by line reading. Does this sentence so with this sentence? Does this sentence go with this sentence? Could this sentence come out? So all that super fine tuning, I have to do it at the end, and that I takes me a long time.


So collaborators. Expertise is great. You want the most expert person in an area. But you also want to look at other things. Think about work style. The pilot data collection is a nice time to try someone out before you buy them—marry them, so to speak, into your grant. Do they work—are they last—like I can’t work with someone who is last minute. You can see my process, it wouldn’t work.

Equality is important. When I was a young new assistant professor, I made some mistakes about collaborators, where I chose people who were more senior, significantly more senior, and ended up not really being part of the research team but more of the research assistant. So be aware of the equality: do you feel that they respect you?

What is the person’s strengths and weaknesses? I look for people who don’t have my same strengths, but have strengths where I have weaknesses. Because then we make a nice team. And someone who is open. You want someone you can talk to, who is open and honest, who doesn’t let things fester, who will talk to you.

When you’re drafting, this has already been covered, you can have people write parts but the PI, if that’s you, you need to understand every part so that all the parts sound like one voice. It can’t read like now, we’re hearing from the engineer, now the psychologist. It has to read like one person wrote it. And sometimes I have a collaborator I’m very close to, we work a lot together. We actually sit and go line-by-line —we sit and go line by line together. My husband thinks it’s hysterical, because we’re like, no I don’t like that word. Well, what word instead? I don’t like that one. I don’t like that word. You know he thinks it’s hysterical, but we’re very particular about every word.

Research Team Growth

And lastly research team growth. I thought it might be nice for you to see the scope of an R01 is different from an R03. But so is team growth. I was a little unique. When I had my R03 I did not want to a PhD student. I just didn’t feel ready to take that on. They are a lot of work. Don’t don’t kid yourself, they are more work than they are productive for a long time. Then they get good. So I had 3 to 5 undergraduate students and 2 masters students for most of the years of my R03. My R01, I have at this point, and it kind of built through my R01, I’ve got 10 to 15 undergrad students, 2 to 4 masters students, 1 to 2 PhD students, and a full-time research manager. Now obviously that’s not all for the R01. I mean, I have other grants that are going on and studies that are going on. But it gives you an idea of how the lab grows over a 10 to 12 year period.

Questions and Discussion

So I wanted to keep it short because I thought you might have questions, or other people would want to say something really smart.

Audience Question:

This is more on the question than the smart comment end. But I’m interested —early in your R03 career, what kind of collaborators were you reaching out for to add to your project?

Jessica Huber

So for the R03, to be honest, I didn’t really have many collaborators on my R03. I had a co-investigator that was a senior person in the department who kind of was there for questions, but it was really just me running the R03, and the R03 budget is such that it’s very hard to have a lot of collaborators, and the scope is pretty small, so I didn’t really need a lot of collaborators. But I’m some of the other things I was doing as I was building from my R01 toward my R01, then I started to add more collaborators. Also at Purdue, when I was still an assistant professor, it really was more of a model of being independent and not having a lot of senior people help. I think now we’re more open to collaboration particularly among people who are more junior, but it still wouldn’t be good to have a super senior person helping you on your R03.

Audience Comments

  • If you think that you make a better case in terms of feasibility and so access to patients, access to technology. If it’s hard to convince the reviewers that you can do it by yourself, it’s good to have somebody who is senior who will provide that access. But I think you have to be clear that there’s that the scientific contribution of what you’re doing and what they’re doing is completely independent, and this person is a gateway for you do not have any barriers, and I think that works well. I mean I have seen a lot of R03s where they have a senior mentor, and as long as it makes the case for the mentor it’s actually seen as a strength.
  • So sometimes senior people will have a lot of input, say it that way, into the R03 proposal. I think you mentioned equality. And reviewers are really pretty good at detecting that. And so you know, if it seems like it’s just part of a senior investigator’s research program and the junior person is kind of just doing a piece of it, and that actually will work to your disadvantage because—well, it’s R21 now, but that mechanism is really designed as a path to independence. And so you really want to show that. On the other hand, I to do want to echo what Swathi said, which is you know if there’s somebody who is a—somebody who could give you some mentoring that’s like access to patients or access to cores or things like that where it’s really clear that they’re enabling as opposed to dictating, that that’s okay. I wish I could be more specific on the language, I can just tell you as a reviewer, we can really tell.
  • So on my R03, the senior person didn’t do research in my area at all. But she knew about respiratory function and some of the different—also I was doing lip and jaw kinematics which is brand new for me, and she did—it was Anne Smith, so it’s not me being secretive. But she did lip and jaw kinematics and so I was going to learn that, so she was really the gateway to doing that. But it was my idea. She didn’t study Parkinson’s. So it’s really an independent idea that came out of my research. Does that help?
Audience Question:

I’m curious of people are on faculty, who has successfully developed two very distinct lines of research? And at what point in their career did that happen?

Audience Comments

  • I have. So I have three distinct lines of research. And it happened, the first two happened almost immediately and my first line of research that I did as a PhD student was actually neuroimaging. And I did some behavioral research as well. But what I realized was that at the time where neuroimaging technology was then, I could not get papers out fast enough to get tenure. And so I realized pretty quickly that I better have what I call my bread-and-butter line, that were papers that come out a lot faster that would supplement my main line. And truthfully the second line, which was assessment research started because I needed to know whose head to put in the scanner. And so it served my main line but you know, it had clinical application to it that stood on its own.
  • Well we have a faculty member in our department who has done that, and he has developed an animal line of research looking at vocal aging in animals, and then he’s doing some behavioral research. And he’s turning out to be successful, but it was touch and go for a while about whether he would be able to get both of these things up and going as a brand new assistant professor, and how that would impact his productivity. So I would be cautious if you’re thinking about that as a brand new assistant professor because—and he’s made he’s made it work, he’s wonderful. But you know unless you’re really exceptional, you have exceptional support from your department and your university, you could get out to year three or four and not have anything to show for it and be in trouble. So you have to think about where you are in your career and whether or not you should do that.
  • I think that’s the best perfect advice. And the cochlear implant stuff that Steve mentioned, this came—so I’d been doing research in language processing in children with SLI for collaboration with Dave Sweeney and we became interested in all these different methods looking at language processing in children with SLI and then a friend kept saying, you should come see our cochlear implant kids, you should come see our cochlear implants. So what I did, and this goes exactly with Jessica’s timeline stuff—so I went to New York Eye and Ear one day a week for a year and sitting in on division meeting and who was getting implants. I sat in with Ying and watched her do language therapy and really got immersed in the center for a year, and then I had a postdoc and PhD student who both did studies at New York Eye and Ear and did dissertations at New York Eye and Ear. And then I wrote the grant. And basically what I did in order to make this credible, which I could not have done as an assistant professor, is I basically said, I’m taking this history I have of language processing, I’m going to apply it to children with cochlear implants, and adjust the hypotheses and the aims to that population. So along with the two projects that my student and postdoc did, I now have some history in that, and I took the methodology expertise into the population. And that’s what allowed me to do that, and do it in a credible way. Also with a colleague Derrick Houston who has a long history of doing cochlear implant programs. And so it really required this this long-term building that Jessica was talking about. And it wasn’t like I just woke up one morning and said and I’m going to do cochlear implant research, because that never would’ve worked and never would’ve gotten funded. So it was this building over a long period of time in order to be a credible researcher in cochlear implants and do something new for me.
  • I was just going to say, if they’re not close, it gets harder. The more degrees away from each other those two areas are, the harder it gets. So it’s a personal preference. For me, I just don’t, I couldn’t have imagined doing that.
  • I wanted to make a comment about this idea of multiple strands of research which worked for me in my in my career. But you want to think carefully about what your institution’s promotion and tenure attitude is. And if they want to see an identifiable line of research then I strongly urge you, if you’re going to pick up a second line, think about what Jessica said and have a story that ties them together for people. And if you can’t do that, you might want to think about staging them so that you don’t risk your promotion and tenure for that purpose.
Audience Question:

You did such a nice job comparing the R03 and R01 and different characteristics. Can you comment on your publication record at those two points?

Audience Comments

  • Well I mean so you have an R03 and don’t publish anything? Don’t go for an R01. That’s a bad idea. And The words I hear in reviews are—they had an R03, and they had three publications, that was modest productivity. And they have like seven or eight, they say that was high productivity. And of they have one or two and in high impact journals I will say, it was okay. But you really, you know, to give a number, I think three is— I’m giving you just a reviewer perspective. It’s going to depend on what you’re doing and what the time line is. But you want to be sure that you don’t turn in an R01 until you’ve at least published something. Don’t turn in an R03 until you’ve publish your dissertation. Important things.
  • I got my R03 without—like I wrote my R03 as I submitted because I went right from my dissertation.
  • And talented people can be exceptions. So this advice is always on average.
  • I’m just telling you. But what I think I have two or three pubs when I wrote my R03, but then I had a lot of stuff out from my are R03 when I wrote my R01
Audience Question:

So the distinction between co-PI and co-investigator, how do you decide which to have on the grant?

Audience Comments

  • A PI is someone who’s directing—your co-PI, you’ve designed and directed this research together. So where I have co-PIs are on grants where we need two people with really different areas of research. We need to collaborate to do this together, and we both are driving the research. A co-investigator is more someone you need like a collaborator someone to help with parts of the research. I don’t know how you guys feel, but I barely use the co-PI model unless it is required to drive the research. If it’s multidisciplinary in a big way. Like I have a grant that we are working on with a person who does gait and balance and me. Well I’m not going to be the PI, I don’t know anything about gait and balance, so we need to be co-PIs. But if it’s about speech, and I need someone who knows about cognition to help with the cognitive aspects of it, but it’s not going to be with questions about cognition, that might be more like a co-investigator.
  • And I would just add on to that—so and Jessica is talking about a multiple PI grant versus a single PI grant with co-investigators. So co-PI, multiple PIs, you’re using interchangeably. So if you have a multiple PI grant remember that, if you want that early stage/new investigator status, all of the PIs have to have that status. You also have to provide a separate page and a plan—you have to have a multiple PI working plan. So all of these contingencies about who’s going to do what and this is what the plan is, and this is how we’re going to resolve disputes. So it is more involved, and it—the difference for me is that in a multiple PI application, you have equal weight PIs. In a single PI application, you have somebody who’s the lead, who has collaborators that are assisting in other aspects of the project. And think very carefully—and I would say talk to program about this as well, about their advice on the particular idea, your career stage: is this a multiple PI application, is this should I be the PI with a co-investigator. So I think there are lots of resources that you have, but a really good question.
  • And have a hard conversation when you’re talking about the multiple PI versus a single PI. The people who are going to be working with you, you need to sit down and have a very frank conversation about what’s required to get this done, what do they want to do, what part are they going to play, what part are you going to play. You don’t just do it as a way to give everyone equal credit because you can’t pick someone to be the PI.
  • The other thing you have to be aware of with an MPI situation—I have one. And we came together because one has a specialty in children, we have special adult but we were investigating a similar system, so really was bringing together expertise. But one institution is still the lead institution. So the award is granted— you have to make this decision—to one of the institutions, and the other institutions the subcontract. So just, you both get indirects and all of that, but you do need to know that.
  • The other insider baseball point is that if you’re an MPI, then you’re listed as one of the principal investigators in the NIH accounting system. When you’re co-investigator, you’re not. And so some institutions care about that. Ours doesn’t. They’re just happy when they look at it if you’re participating in some way. They do give more credit to the PI, as they should, but it’s not like they treat co-Is like they’re you know tagalongs. Some institutions they really go by, if you’re listed you know in NIH Register as an investigator. And that could be a consideration. Ultimately though, it’s always based on what everybody else is saying, which is there has to be a substantive reason and some equality in terms of the multiple PI that’s a higher standard if you will, and the reviewers look at it that way.
  • As a PI, you show up as somebody who has a grant. If you’re a co-investigator you’re doing all the work, and you’re not getting to be on a NIH Reporter as somebody who has a grant, that has implications.

Jessica Huber
Purdue University

Presented at Lessons for Success (April 2016). Hosted by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Research Mentoring Network.

Lessons for Success is supported by Cooperative Agreement Conference Grant Award #U13 DC007835 from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and is co-sponsored by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation (ASHFoundation).

Copyrighted Material. Reproduced by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association in the Clinical Research Education Library with permission from the author or presenter.