I co-wrote a proposal with two faculty members who mentored me during my PhD. Since I am now a non-tenure track Assistant Professor at a different institution than the other two, I was to be given a sub-award as a co-PI. I had spent several months (along with the others) on writing the proposal. Recently, the PI told me that the program manager contacted him and apparently mentioned that the sub-award needs to be dropped, and my name would not be there in the proposal. I am disheartened that I will not be recognized for my contributions, especially since I will be joining a tenure-track position next Fall. I understand that these faculties are senior, and the program manager trusts their abilities more than mine. However, I put in that much effort because I thought I would be a co-PI. What should I do?

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    What is the ethical element here?
    – Buzz
    Apr 9 at 1:39
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    My understanding is that post-docs are often listed as senior personnel [might be mistaken]. If you have signed a contract with your new institution where your TT starts, then you would be able to claim a co-PI since you will be considered as holding a perminant position [might wanna double check on this with the PM].
    – The Guy
    Apr 9 at 1:41
  • No, I was listed as co-PI under a sub grant. My current postdoc position is technically a non-tenure track assistant professor position. So being a co-PI is not a problem. The issue is the PI and the other co-PI who are senior are asking me to move away so that they can get a sizeable grant for themselves, apparently at the directive of the NSF program director. Apr 9 at 2:11
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    If it is coming from the program director, is it because the grant, structurally, can not have such a sub award, like does it violate the rules of the grant? I'm trying to understand why a program manager would be involved in this. Apr 9 at 4:55
  • 1. This is an outrage. You did not specify the subject of the proposal Perhaps the proposal assumes you will be working in a lab at your former institution? 2. You should write to your co-authors. 3. You should write to the Program director. 4. Apart from these there is very little you can do except, possibly, suing,
    – markvs
    Apr 9 at 8:25

3 Answers 3


Here is a link to the NSF faq


[Faculty Level or Equivalent] Section IV, “Eligibility Information,” states under “PI Limit” that “Principal Investigators (PI) must be at the faculty level or equivalent.” How is “faculty level or equivalent” for the Principal Investigators defined? Principal Investigators (PI and co-PIs) must have a tenured, tenure-track, or non-tenure track faculty position and their institution allows them to serve as PI or co-PI. Postdoctoral researchers are not allowed to serve as PI or co-PI but they may serve as other personnel.

You can be affiliated personnel and that is what makes sense. It's disappointing but you should discuss with the PI how they will address this in a letter of reference for you.

  • I mentioned that I am a postdoc initially because that is how non-tenure track Assistant Professors are referred to in Math. There is no problem with me being a co-PI. I have cross-checked that with the business office. Apr 11 at 2:10
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    It's not the business office, it is NSF. But also would the business office be the place for grants? Most universities I have been at have a dedicated grants office. Remember that grants are not to you, they are to the university.
    – Elin
    Apr 11 at 2:26

If you believe that the others are taking your original work and ideas and passing them off as their own, the first thing to do is to communicate to them clearly about it. You need to prepare to tell them what you want (eg what must be excised), with the understanding that if they are being told by the funder to cut your part, it can't go back in, so that's an unreasonable expectation.

However, if this sub project that is being eliminated is the only place that you made a substantial intellectual contribution, and the only place that contained your original ideas, well, this happens sometimes. It happens when the project stops making logical sense with an extra appendage, and it happens when, I suppose, the grant admin says they should not apply with it there. They really may mean no offence in this case.

One way to move forward would be to ask your collaborators if they would be willing to help seek alternative funding for your subproject. This works better in some fields and not others


"I put in that much effort because I thought I would be a co-PI"

If the proposal was submitted to an internal opening/funding opportunity, it makes sense to expect that, as long as you were at the local institution (please read the caveats here below), but since you moved to a different one that would not be any more valid.

On the other hand, you are not a co-PI simply because you helped writing the proposal, it is a dangerous way of thinking. PIs (and co-PI as well as co-co-PIs) will be the persons active during the projects, but it is not guaranteed that there will be a one-to-one match between the ones carrying the main burden of writing the proposal and the ones carrying out the project, unless the persons are specifically and explicitly defined in the proposals itself (yeah, oral agreements with senior faculty are valid ... until the time you get burned).

Additionally, writing proposals (let's call it in the corporate terms "acquisition", as acquisition of new clien... ehm fundings :D ) is something that is more and more expected as regular duties from researchers (PostDocs and above) (of course, the time spent is not explicitly accounted in the working contracts), so although in your ethics your work should have been recognized, in the current state of affairs no one cares about how much time is spent (helping) writing proposals. It is simply expected, but not quantified.

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    Some amazing parenthetical density in this answer ahah Apr 10 at 21:50
  • @AzorAhai-him- too many important facets, for each one (each couple of parentheses, actually) (just to be pedantic) of them one word would be too much and two words not enough, so I could mention them "en passant" only :) .
    – EarlGrey
    Apr 11 at 9:45

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