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Background: I defended my PhD in 2018 and took a postdoc job with my same lab as a matter of convenience. The job had a 3 year contract, funded via an R01 grant, for whom my dissertation advisor was the original PI. He has since retired and transferred PIship to a "research track" junior faculty who followed a similar path to mine (came up through the lab). New PI is certainly capable but perhaps not the "titan" that the original was.

Fast forward to now, I am helping to write a renewal application for the grant, and have contributed 2 out of 4 Aims. These aims contain a lot of (perhaps not all of) my "early career plans". At first glance, this all sounds great, but in a recent email exchange, it was indicated that I would be designated "other personnel" in the grant application, implying perhaps that my position would remain postdoc if the grant was funded.

My question is the following: to what extent is it typical for a postdoc to contribute a large portion of a grant, or grant renewal, but have essentially no formal holding power on the resulting funding? In my particular department, it is my understanding that postdocs cannot hold PI or co-PI on an R01-type grant. My worry is that I'm tying up a bunch of (what I consider) good ideas in someone else's grant, with my only "reward" being another few years of postdoc funding and perhaps a half dozen papers.

Options are clearly: 1. Take whatever I can get, since I have little leverage apart from threatening to "take my ideas elsewhere". 2. Try to negotiate for a position that would allow for a co-PIship (seems difficult during C19 times because university budgets are shot to heck) 3. (semi-nuclear option) Jump ship at the end of my contract (May). 4. Your ideas are welcomed!

Thanks and cheers,

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  • I'm not aware of "PI" being a formal role in your relationship with a university. PI is a funding role, but in your relationship with the university you can be a PostDoc, assistent professor, associate professor, ... Can you please add a location tag? – Roland Oct 20 '20 at 5:54
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    Also: 'with my only "reward" being another few years of postdoc funding and perhaps a half dozen papers' Many would consider that a great reward. In quite a few places it would be an excellent step towards tenure track. – Roland Oct 20 '20 at 5:55
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    It couldn't hurt to inquire about a "research faculty" position in which you could be a co-PI, but I wouldn't let that be a complete deal-breaker. Based on conversations with grad-school friends, it seems quite common for post-docs to write part or all of a grant proposal like this. I've also been told by mentors that my current post-doc in a government lab may harm my prospects in academia, because I don't have to apply for competitive funding. If you win it, you should still have it on your CV, as long as you trust the listed PI to acknowledge your contributions in the future. – MikeyC Oct 20 '20 at 15:35
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Appointments to more permanent positions (like tenure-track or research faculty) are typically made by the university, not by receiving a grant. In other words, I cannot pay myself more simply because I received a grant with available funds. Depending on the university rules, postdocs may not be eligible to be a project PI, which may limit your ability to submit those ideas as your own grant proposal.

In some fields, it is common for postdocs and even PhD students to write grant proposals for their PI as training for their later career. That could even be part of the job expectations for a postdoc. Although you may not have much leverage to receive more funding from this grant, having written a successful grant proposal is a good experience that should help you succeed as a tenure-track faculty and possibly in the job market as well.

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  • Accepting your answer since it mostly answers the question I asked, which is how common is it for a postdoc to contribute part of a grant. My bigger concern (and perhaps this is a separate question) is that I am hoping to move on from this group in the next 6 months to year, and in doing so, I fear that I won't be able to continue working on the projects that I am contributing to the grant proposal, since they'll continue working on them without me. Perhaps I'm over-thinking it! – icurays1 Oct 29 '20 at 19:39

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