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Multiple Principal Investigators

The single PI model does not always work best for multidisciplinary, collaborative research. Another way to enhance expertise is to consider a multiple PI application, which can be very useful for research that needs a team science approach.

Team science can bring complementary and integrated expertise to a project and be a powerful strategy for success.

Note that the multiple PI option is usually appropriate only if you are in different fields and could not complete the research without the other person.

Considerations for a Multiple PI Application

Think carefully before you decide to go this route, especially if you are a new investigator since multiple PI applications have big consequences for you:

  • If your application includes an established PI, it won't qualify for the new investigator payline. You'll qualify for it only if all PIs are new.
  • Once the multiple PI application is funded, you'll lose your new PI status, i.e., you'll no longer be able to apply as a new investigator.
  • You must have time to devote to the project and be at the stage where you can assume duties as a PI. This is not a mentored career development award. The established investigator(s) listed as PIs on your application must also intend to devote the time and effort at the level of the PI.

We can think of a number of reasons that multiple PI applications are often better suited to people who have already had independent grants.

  • It's important that new investigators establish their own "scientific identity," which can be more difficult in a multiple PI situation.
  • It can be more challenging to write a multiple PI application because it is more complex. It can be harder to manage too.
  • You are more locked into the research you proposed when another person is involved than you are when you are on your own. (Read more on that topic in What Is a Grant? linked below.)

For applications designating multiple PIs, you'll need to include a detailed leadership plan that describes the governance and organizational structure of the leadership team and justifies the rationale for using a multiple PI approach. Bringing in another PI who is highly regarded in the field but has an expertise similar to yours, is not a good idea.

If you are proposing multidisciplinary research, either on your own or as part of a multiple PI project, think about the expertise on the review panel. Be clear about why the inclusion of a multidisciplinary approach can accomplish more, and have a higher impact, than if this approach was not used.

Not yet ready for an R01? Explore other ways of participating on a grant besides being a PI that will allow you to demonstrate leadership capabilities, e.g., leading a subproject within a larger project.

Should New PIs Consider a Multiple PI Application?

New PIs, think carefully before you choose to join or create a multiple PI application with an established investigator.

Unless all the PIs on a multiple PI application are new, you will not benefit from your new investigator status, won’t qualify for the new investigator payline, and you will lose your new investigator status for future applications.

We can think of a number reasons that multiple PI applications are often better suited to people who already have grants.

  • It's important that new investigators establish their own identity, which can be more difficult in a multiple PI situation.
  • It can be more difficult to write a multiple PI application because it is more complex. It can be more difficult to manage too.
  • You are more locked into the research you proposed when another person is involved than you are when you are on your own.

Note that the multiple PI option is for collaborative, usually multidisciplinary, research and is usually appropriate only if you are in different fields and could not complete the research without the other person.

If you are conducting multidisciplinary research, make sure NIH has a review committee that will be able to effectively review all aspects of the application.

Completing the Forms for a Multiple PI Application

If you plan to submit a multiple PI application, you must include a Multiple PI Leadership Plan. When you complete the forms, do the following.

  • Do NOT check the co-PIs box on the SF 424 (Cover Page) form. NIH does not use co-PIs.
  • Include the Commons ID for each PI in the "Credential, e.g. agency login" field on the Research and Related Senior/Key Person Profile form.

Put only the contact PI's name and Commons ID on the SF 424 form. He or she must be affiliated with the applicant institution.

Checklist

  • My team and I have the required resources to do the work.
  • If not, I plan to request the equipment in the application.
  • My team and I are qualified to execute the experiments.
  • I secured letters of collaboration to put in my application.
  • If I am a new investigator, I am fully aware of the implications of a multi-PI application on my new PI status and other caveats.
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