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Team Roles and Agreements

As you Build Your Team to bolster experience on your application, discuss possible team roles with your colleagues. Be sure to document agreements with your contributors and their roles.

If you are considering working with an NIAID intramural investigator, see Collaborations Between Extramural and NIAID Scientists.

Types of Team Roles

As you discuss the roles your colleagues can play in support of your planned research, make sure everyone understands what each role entails. They can summarize their roles in Letters of Support. If you are Using Subawards, you should create formal agreements as well.

Principal investigators

As a principal investigator (PI), you lead the project’s scientific development or execution. PIs should be listed as senior/key personnel.

On an application with Multiple Principal Investigators, you have more than one PI. Do not use the term “co-PI” when you mean a PI on a multiple PI application.

Co-investigators

Those who are involved with the PI in the project’s scientific development or execution but don’t quite rise to the level of being a full PI. Co-investigators should be listed as senior/key personnel.

Do not use the term “co-investigator” when you mean a PI on a multiple PI application. Learn more about Multiple Principal Investigators.

Collaborators

Collaborators always plays 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 (above) 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 explained well 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 senior/key personnel. They may get part of their salary paid from the grant based on person months of effort. Collaborators at other institutions could have their salary paid through a consortium agreement when Using Subawards. Collaborators get an IRS Form W-2 from their institutions.

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

Consultants

Consultants provide advice or services and may participate significantly in the research. They often help fill in smaller gaps by, for example, supplying software, providing technical assistance or training, or setting up equipment.

List consultants as senior/key personnel only if they will contribute substantively and measurably to the scientific development or execution of a project. Otherwise, see the next section.

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.

Other Significant Contributors

Other significant contributors (OSCs) commit to contribute to the scientific development or execution of the project but are not committing any specified measurable effort (person months or percent effort) to the project.

As examples, your mentor on a career award or an as-needed consultant would be considered an OSC.

OSCs are typically listed in your application with "effort of zero person months" or "as needed."

OSCs are not considered senior/key personnel, but you must include biosketches for OSC. Learn more at Create Biosketches.

Come to an Agreement

If you decide to include outside consultants or collaborators, we advise you to secure a formal written agreement with each during your planning stage. The agreements should address your negotiated arrangements to meet the grant’s requirements.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Is the collaborator affiliated with your institution?
    • If not, what inter-institutional agreements may be necessary?
    • You might want to look at agreements used for multiple PI applications 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?

In your application and Letters of Support, thoroughly describe what each person will be doing. Your reviewers need enough detail to be able to judge whether there is sufficient expertise to conduct the project.

Do not include the text of the formal agreement itself in your application, letters of support, or just-in-time documentation. The formal agreement is for your benefit. NIH does not request, use, or need a copy of it.

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

For consultants with consortium and contractual arrangements, you’ll need more documentation. Learn more at Using Subawards.

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