Consultants, Collaborators, & Subawards

Consultants, Collaborators, & Subawards

If you need to bolster the expertise on your application, consider working with consultants or collaborators. Learn the difference between consultants and collaborators, as well as how to set up and manage a subaward.

Are you considering working with an NIAID intramural investigator? See Collaborations Between Extramural and NIAID Scientists.

If you decide to work with consultants or collaborators, learn Where to Add Consortium and Contractual Information.

What’s the Difference?

Collaborators play an active role in the research, while consultants provide advice or services and may participate significantly in the research. Sometimes people play both roles.


A consultant provides advice or services and may participate significantly in the research. Often he or she helps fill in smaller gaps by, for example, supplying software, providing technical assistance or training, or setting up equipment.

List consultants as key personnel only if they contribute substantively and measurably to the scientific development or execution of a project.

Consultants do not receive a salary from your grant but may receive a fee. When paying them, your institution issues a Form 1099 Misc to the Internal Revenue Service.


Collaborators always play an active role in the research, and the position is sometimes defined interchangeably with co-investigator. As a loose guideline, think of a collaborator as a scientist whose distinct expertise complements your own while a co-investigator shares your area of expertise and therefore contributes in guiding the scientific direction of the overall project. One provides unique expertise, the other umbrella expertise.

Still, many areas of science have their own expectations for each of these roles. So long as the role of each contributor is thoroughly explained in your Personnel Justification and the Letters of Support, your choice between the titles of "co-investigator" and "collaborator" won't be a point of contention for reviewers.

Collaborators are typically listed as key personnel. They may get part of their salary paid from the grant in person months. Collaborators at other institutions could have their salary paid through a consortium agreement (also called a subaward). Collaborators get an IRS Form W-2 from their institutions.

Collaborators always play an active role in the research.

Some senior-level collaborators may choose to work part-time for credit (e.g., the potential of future publications), rather than pay.

Come to an Agreement

If you decide to include outside consultants or collaborators (or both), secure a formal written agreement at the planning stage that addresses the negotiated arrangements for meeting the requirements of the grant.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Is the collaborator in your institution?
    • If not, what inter-institutional agreements may be necessary?
    • You might want to look at multiple PI agreements as an example.
  • What intellectual property and data sharing plan arrangements do you need to make?
  • What are the expectations for authorship and coauthorship on publications?

Read about more issues you might want to consider at Build Your Team.

Using Subawards

Subawards allow another organization to perform some activities for your grant under your supervision. They enable collaborations between you—the grantee—and the subawardee. This arrangement does not involve NIAID.

You still include the details of the work in your application because the initial peer review committee needs to evaluate it (unlike a purchase contract).

Since subawards are legal agreements, your institution must draw up a physical document or consortium agreement that both organizations sign.

Funds from the grantee organization must flow directly from the grantee to the subawardee, meaning a subawardee cannot create its own subaward with a third party—a "third tier" subaward—using funds from the grantee. Think of subawards like the spokes of a wheel with the grantee in the center—a grant may have a number of subawards, but they must all be directly connected to the grantee.

Application and budget information

Grantees must establish a subaward with any outside organizations that perform grant-supported research activities.

For information on what to include in your application, read the Subawards (Consortium Agreements) for Grants SOP.

Managing subawards

When it comes to managing subawards, NIAID's involvement and that of the grantee are different.

NIAID's role

Generally speaking, NIAID's involvement in a subaward is minimal. We do not participate in establishing the terms of the subaward, nor are we responsible for enforcing adherence to those terms.

You need prior approval from NIAID to establish a new subaward after your grant has been awarded if

  • The subawardee is a foreign organization.
  • The terms of the subaward would constitute a change in scope.

Do not rely on your program officer and grants management specialist to communicate with your subawardee directly. NIAID staff are responsible for communicating through the primary grantee only. 

Grantee responsibilities

In managing subawards, grantees are fully responsible for the following:

  • All actions of the subaward related to the award
  • All contact with NIAID

As the grantee, you (not the subawardee) are accountable to NIAID for the performance of the research project, spending of grant funds by all parties, reporting requirements, negotiating animal and human subjects assurances, and other obligations for the grant.

You and the subawardee are responsible for solving disagreements. The signed agreement is paramount—it should be the source for resolving conflicts. Be sure to define expectations clearly and include a mechanism for settling disputes when you write a subaward agreement.

Keep the following in mind:

  • You still need to play a substantive role in the research; you cannot just pass along funds to another institution.
  • If we need information from your subawardees, we will contact you.
  • If there's a problem with a subawardee, we will expect you to take care of it.
  • You can add a subaward to your project anytime.

If you decide to work with consultants or collaborators, learn Where to Add Consortium and Contractual Information.

Have Questions?

A program officer in your area of science can give you application advice, NIAID's perspective on your research, and confirmation that NIAID will accept your application.

Find contacts and instructions at When to Contact a NIAID Program Officer.

Content last reviewed on August 11, 2016