Poll of the day

Sep 16 2015 Published by under Careerism, NIH, NIH Careerism

Do you now, or have you ever, thought that a "Co-PI" was an official designation on an NIH grant?

Where did you come by this notion, if you have?

How recently have you had colleagues describe this as a real thing (and not as a confusion for the Multi-PI)?

Are there other major or minor funding agencies you are aware of that use "Co-PI" in some formal way?

Is it the same as NIH's Multi-PI or more like the "co-I, but better" implied by the old, inaccurate use with respect to NIH grants? 

33 responses so far

  • Philapodia says:

    I've always thought of Co-PI as an internal thing rather than a NIH thing. Being Co-PI on a grant is good for promotion "hey look, I was Co-PI on these grants (i.e. I didn't write much or administer the grants but I want credit anyway! Promote me!" but doesn't mean much with NIH.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Have you seen that work before? At the Uni P&T committee level, say?

  • Philapodia says:


  • MoBio says:

    FWIW I consider a 'Co-PI' to be the Co-PI (essentially the same as in a Multi-PI grant).

    I likely am in the minority on this.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Where did you come by the understanding that "co-PI" was a thing?

  • bashir says:

    What are the official designations on NIH grants? This has been somewhat confusing because of colloquial use that is similar but not the same.

  • MoBio says:

    @ DM: so to clarify. Before Multi-PI I took great advantage of the Co-PI option --particularly with chemists and molecular modeling experts as part of integrated drug discovery grants. I don't use Co-PI anymore but there is one legacy grant out there with two Co-PIs and my use of this term would be equivalent to that for Multi-PI grant.

    Now when I have a collaboration I use the Multi-PI approach.

  • drugmonkey says:


    Role of Co-PD/PI not used by NIH
    The role of 'Co-PD/PI', indicated for Senior/Key Person on the Senior/Key Person page, is not used by NIH. For multiple Principal Investigators, use the PD/PI role. Otherwise, select another role.

  • bacillus says:

    If you look at non-modular budget pages and hover your mouse over the "investigator role" box, a helpful pop-up appears stating co-PI as a possible role.

  • L Kiswa says:

    "Do you now, or have you ever, thought that a "Co-PI" was an official designation on an NIH grant?"

    No. For internal use, on all grants where multiple investigators are involved (co-I at NIH or co-PI at NSF), our university asks us to declare at the time of submission the % credit that should be allocated to each investigator. For P&T docs, at the college level, we are asked to note what $ amount was under our "control."

    Bean counting sounds like a fun job :\

  • tom says:

    if this happened to me, it would depend on effort expended. but, when I am PI, I put in much more work than when I am simply contributing. ergo, so it goes.

  • Former Technician says:

    We have a contract that mandated Co-PIs. (Contract, not grant)

    On grants, if not a multi-PI, our MRU does not allow co-PI. Co-I is very common but does not always indicate key personnel.

  • Insect Biologist says:

    For years I thought that "co-PI" was a real thing for NIH awards, and that's because so many people use this terminology. Even after writing half of an R01 proposal, supposedly as a co-PI, I didn't realize I was incorrect because co-PI was the terminology used by the PI. It wasn't until I was planning to submit an R01 proposal of my own that I read the NIH guidelines carefully and realized that I had actually been a co-I. Bummer!

    As Odyssey said, the NSF does use the co-PI designation. Here are the relevant definitions from an NSF website:

    "A Principal Investigator (PI) or co-PI is defined as "the individual(s) designated by the proposer, and approved by NSF, who will be responsible for the scientific or technical direction of the project. NSF does not infer any distinction in scientific stature among multiple PIs, whether referred to as PI or co-PI. If more than one, the first one listed will serve as the contact PI, with whom all communications between NSF program officials and the project relating to the scientific, technical, and budgetary aspects of the project should take place. The PI and any identified co-PIs, however, will be jointly responsible for submission of the requisite project reports".
    All PIs and co-PIs are expected to have significant intellectual input to the project. In the event a PI must leave a project it is expected that the remaining co-PI(s) could continue to direct the project and submit the requisite reports."

    I think that the problem with the co-I designation is that it doesn't mean anything. As an NIH co-I, my role was clearly comparable to the NSF definition of co-PI (since I directed most aspects of the project). Other commenters have pointed out that some co-investigators are more like support staff. This means that when people write "co-investigator" on CVs and evaluation paperwork, no one knows what it means.

  • drugmonkey says:

    If you look at non-modular budget pages and hover your mouse over the "investigator role" box, a helpful pop-up appears stating co-PI as a possible role.

    I just pulled the downloadable form for a generic R01 and yep, it's in the "project role" drop down for Senior/Key person Profiles. I am gobsmacked. They make it clear in many other places that this is not an official NIH designation.

    next time I have a new grant open with Assist I'm going to see if that allows Co-PI

  • I have obviously always been aware of the reality here. And just last week I had a discussion with someone who was asking for some grants advice who explained to me that she was a "co-PI" on an R01, and I asked her "you mean multi-PI, or something else?", and she was all like, "Wuut?" So I go, "If you bring up the grant on ProjectReporter, are you listed as a PI? If you go to eRA Commons, is the grant accessible to you through your account?" And she was all like, "Hmm. I don't know." Not good...

  • drugmonkey says:

    IB and Odyssey: I think the NSF definition of Co-PI is pretty much identical to the NIH Multi-PI designation.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    I think I'd been an assistant professor for around 3 years before I grokked the distinction between co-PI and multi-PI.

  • odyssey says:

    The written definition of Co-PI for NSF proposals does sound more like the NIH Multi-PI designation, but in practice an NSF Co-PI tends to function much more like an NIH Co-I.

  • Insect Biologist says:

    DM: I agree that the NSF definition of co-PI is comparable to the NIH definition of multi-PI, but, based on my observations, it seems that NSF funded researchers do not necessarily use "co-PI" in this way. For example, if I have an NSF proposal, I can be the lead PI, my colleague at a different university can be the non-lead PI, and we may both have an RAP/assistant scientist as a co-PI. In other words, people with NSF funding sometimes use co-PI in a way that may be comparable to the NIH co-I designation.

  • PepProf says:

    drugmonkey - that is exactly what I meant by not understanding why NIH insists on keeping this designation around. It is on their pdf application packages as an option! Seems like it has always lingered there just for the purposes of causing confusion.

  • Juan Lopez says:

    I never thought that people saw Co-PI as wrong. I always thought that it referred to one of multiple PI"s in a grant. In the sense that CPP mentions: listed as PI in Reporter, accessible through Commons and with actual budgetary control. One PI is designated as contact PI, but otherwise with PIs being equal.

    In multi-PI grants, how do people determine how much of the budget they control? Other than subcontracts, these numbers are not specified.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    @Juan Lopez:

    With multi-PI grants, you're required to include a shared leadership plan, which doesn't get quite as specific as who controls how much of the budget, but does require details of how disagreements on project management will be handled (which presumably would include budget disputes).

  • Lurkette says:

    What about foundation grants? I am one of 3 people that got a grant for a collaborative proposal, and I refer to it as Co-PI with blah-blah on my biosketch/CVs. Could that be possibly imply non-equal standing among the 3 labs? What is a succinct and general way to refer to self in multi-PI grants? #kindanew

  • shrew says:

    I wish I could have "always been aware" of everything important since infancy just like PhysioProf. Why they discontinued the Baby Einstein video series on administering NIH grants is beyond my ken.

  • I have lost count of the number of people who have referred to "co-PI" status on an NIH grant. Invariably they mean co-investigator, not multi-PI. It's just a bit of widely accepted incorrectness. Like people referring to RO1 grants with an "oh" instead of a zero. Or not understanding that the grant is to the institution.

  • Or thinking that Council makes the final decisions on grants.

  • AcademicLurker says:


    I remember as an assistant professor the first time I went to the NIH web page and tried to find the %$#!* forms & instructions for the standard R01 proposal. I think it took me half a day.

  • PepProf says:

    Seeing people mistakenly write R"O"1 seriously messes with my OCD.

  • drugmonkey says:

    It's just a bit of widely accepted incorrectness. Like people referring to RO1 grants with an "oh" instead of a zero. Or not understanding that the grant is to the institution.

    The thing is, one of these issues plays essentially no role in navigating this career. The other two actually matter. Or can come to matter for some of us.

  • Juan Lopez says:

    @Academic Lurker: I meant the budget controlled in relation to what Kiswa wrote " For P&T docs, at the college level, we are asked to note what $ amount was under our "control".

    Would each PI in a multi-PI grant claim to have control of the full budget? It sounds like double-counting.

    Talking about misconceptions: how about the one that Tenure means a guaranteed job for life?

  • L Kiswa says:

    JL: On our internal paperwork, we have to put numbers down for how budget will be split, and has to add up to total on outgoing budget, so no double counting. Gets messy quickly.

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