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A postdoc delegated a (newly joined) PhD student to write a small proposal for computing time. She wrote a reasonable first draft, but it needs heavy editing that the postdoc will now do, and submit it where it needs to go. In one section where one has to fill "personnel", she wrote herself as the PI. The postdoc will edit that to take the PI roll and put the PhD as a contributor.

My question: Does the postdoc need to inform the PhD student that the document was corrected to reflect the actual PI or can it go ahead without informing her (potentially leaving her believing she was the PI)?

If you support informing: what justification can the PostDoc give other than "I need to be PI for some projects for my career growth"?

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    Shouldn’t the PI be the PI, i.e., the head of the lab?
    – user126108
    Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 20:55
  • ...are you that postdoc? Does the organization providing computing time have eligibility requirements for who can be a PI?
    – Anyon
    Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 21:02
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    leonos: The group leader has allowed the PostDoc to apply as PI for career reasons. PhD was not involved in that discussion. Anyon: There are no formal requirements but I am confident that a proposal from a PhD will not be taken seriously.
    – quantacad
    Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 21:14
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    Grants are contracts with an institution, not a PI. Students are not eligible to PI grants at some institutions. Others may not even allow postdoc to PI. Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 22:04
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    Only for computing time, I am responsible for paying any charges if involved.
    – quantacad
    Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 12:02

2 Answers 2

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Research administrator in the US here. PI rights are very confusing for researchers, especially new ones. Many think that "PI" = the person who had the original idea, which is not the case. The PI is the one who will be overseeing the research, whether it was their research or not. There are many cases where PIs will be "in name only" to facilitate others to carry on the bulk of the work. Some junior faculty use this approach with a senior PI to help get them their first grants.

In any case, the institutions grant PI rights according to their own policies. In US Universities, this is usually restricted to ladder/tenure-track faculty. As such, postdocs usually are granted PI rights on an exceptional basis, e.g., they have a senior faculty member backstopping them. In 13 years of this work, and several hundreds of proposals, I have never seen a graduate student as a PI unless they are a submitting a fellowship. Graduate students are trainees, and by definition unqualified to supervise research. Postdocs are given rights in an exceptional case as they are quasi-trainees and somewhat independent.

Check your institution's PI Rights policies to see who needs to be the PI -- it is likely limited to tenure-track/tenured faculty without additional paperwork required. Personally, I would never advise a postdoc to take on a PI role without a very good mentor behind them. The amount of administrative burden is more than they anticipate. Institutions throw a lot of resources at faculty to help them through this; this is not necessarily the case for postdocs.

As for the other part of your question; you should inform the student of this information as well. If you want to be part of the research community, it is best to be forthright about who has what responsibilities and not make decisions in secret with the hopes of acquiring some sort of prestige. You will soon find out that many senior faculty are all too happy to give away the job title of "PI" to someone else who is willing to do the paperwork associated with grants and contracts--which is usually what this title conveys, not that they are the sole person with the ideas and intellectual property.

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  • How often do computing time allocations come across your desk as a research admin? My experience is that even the large allocations, which require yearly progress reports, are a lot less formal and administratively involved than grants that involve the transfer of money.
    – Anyon
    Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 15:30
  • @Anyon -- this depends on how the billing works. If it's an internal billing procedure, it will hit my accounts, and then I am responsible for asking about allocability. If it all hits a startup, I don't care. If we are billing sponsored funding, I would be doing this work at least quarterly, as I would with any service center. Usually once PIs figure out that I will hold them to consistent allocations, they work with me to figure out how to do this process less often. Mainly you can't work 100% on NSF and be charging costs for an unrelated project. Are you actually not 100% on NSF? Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 18:54
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    @Anyon, you can find different policies/guidance on cost allocation methodologies online. Some folks may need to reassess monthly; sometimes we use one month's use to determine total % for the allocation and revisit annually, etc. UCSF has an example that mentions compute time here: controller.ucsf.edu/quick-reference/contracts-grants-accounting/… Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 19:09
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    Thanks, that's informative.
    – Anyon
    Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 20:11
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It would be improper to make a change without consultation. I don't know why she listed herself. Usually the PI has a supervisory role over a lab or group. Ultimately it is the person responsible for carrying out the requirements of a grant and being able to testify that all is correct.

Perhaps you don't qualify either. But it needs to be discussed, perhaps including whoever is the overall supervisor.

It is possible that if the grant is for her and her only and she will carry out the work that the PI role is appropriate, but it isn't obvious. Similar for the postdoc who may have a supervisory role or not.

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    People are assuming that he's applying for a grant, but computing resources applications in general are only for getting computing time allocated in some HPC infrastructure. After getting the resources allocated they will be charged according to used computing hours. The OP mentions PI role in this application, but usually this is an administrator role. Of course, this is country and HPC infrastructure dependent. I'm based in Europe. In Norway it's common that postdocs are admins in this context.
    – The Doctor
    Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 10:26

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