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A colleague and I, early-career researchers, are planning to submit a research funding proposal. The research program we are envisioning would need a third PI with complementary expertise and resources. Of all the collaborators we might invite, one of the most qualified would be our former supervisor. (I worked under this supervisor as a doctoral researcher, and my colleague and I both worked under this supervisor as postdocs. All three of us are now at different institutions across Europe. My colleague and I have each already received a single-PI research grant without any involvement of the former supervisor.)

The funding program to which we are applying indicates that its purposes are only "to support excellent collaborative research projects" and "to make it easier for researchers to collaborate across borders", so including our former supervisor doesn't violate any explicitly stated guideline. However, I understand that "academic incest" is often a concern, for example when admitting graduate students or hiring faculty. Is it also a concern when evaluating research funding proposals? That is, is it possible/likely that reviewers would raise objections to a funding proposal that is submitted jointly by a professor and two of their former postdocs? If so, we'd rather invite a different collaborator to be the third PI and retool the research program around their particular skills and resources.

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There are issues beyond the funding mechanism you need to be concerned about here -- specifically, your tenure committee when you come up for review. They will be looking for evidence that you've successfully established your independence as a scientist. If this grant is your only major initiative, and it looks like you need the support of your mentor, you may have a problem.

That said, a portfolio can be a big complicated thing. If there are other factors that clearly establish your strengths as a successful independent researcher, there may be no cause for worry.

The tenure clock ticks fast, and establishing collaborations beyond your mentor quickly is something worthy of your attention and efforts.

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Since decisions are made by individuals with their own priorities (and biases) I can't say that it isn't a concern, but it should be a minor one, especially as you state the case.

A more important expectation of those judging whether to give money for a given project is whether these people are likely to do a good job with the proposed research (and the money). An established collaborative group probably sits a bit higher on that scale than an untested one. These folks have worked successfully together in the past and are therefore more likely to do so in the future. Equally important is whether this research is really worth doing at all (with our money).

I worry about your suggestion of choosing people first and then choosing the direction afterwards. That feels backwards. If you have a good research question, a plan to work it, and a good team, I see no reason to do otherwise.

And, regarding your examples of academic incest, some of them are actually based on similar considerations, not incest. A person is known to a supervisor or hiring committee already as a successful and compatible researcher. Yes, we will choose them over an unknown.

There are, of course, true instances of academic incest, with unqualified people selected for reasons other than merit. But I don't think it applies to your case.

OTOH, there is also merit in bringing new people into an existing collaboration. Those are often students, in fact.


Thought experiment: Imagine a world in which there was active discrimination of existing successful collaborative groups in favor of new and untested ones. Would scholarship likely be improved in such a system?

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