or to other research organizations for example government labs?

I am currently a post doc at large and would like to co-write a proposal (probably NSF) with a Professor at a nearby University. With the funding, I'd be getting a salary and doing the majority of the work and the lead PI (the prof) would work partial time and time in the summer.


3 Answers 3


Every US funding agency has its own rules, and most agencies have many different types of programs with different intentions. For most (maybe all) agencies, this includes both funding to universities and funding to corporations, particularly under SBIR programs. Some agencies will also fund individual consultants directly for various specialized roles, but that tends to happen mostly with rather senior individuals.

Your options are even larger if you are not the PI, however, but a co-PI (I think this is actually what you want to do). For most agencies and most funding vehicles, the PI's organization can subcontract work with a fair degree of freedom. Also, there is only one PI, from the point of view of the contract: it doesn't matter if you call all the leaders PIs, the government is going to negotiate with one organization per contract, and that organization is going to be asked to designate one person be the PI, and in practice everybody else is co-PIs.

For you, then, there are three main paths to take:

  1. Propose, with the professor as PI, under the plan that if funded you will become affiliated with the PI's university
  2. Propose, with the professor as PI, where you will be contracted as a consultant.
  3. Set up an LLC, from which you can propose as PI, and subcontract to the professor. You'll have to comply with government contracting rules, which are painful, but much less so for SBIRs.

Number 1 is probably the best, unless you have some reason to avoid affiliation, in which case #2 is a good alternative. #3 doesn't have much advantage unless you intend to apply for SBIRs, and is still a pain to get started.


You should read the guidelines for the program you are applying for to see who would be eligible in that program. My guess is that you may not be eligible to be PI, but possibly co-PI.

Also be aware that success rates are pretty low with NSF and many governmental agencies (typically 5-25%), so don't count your salary before you get funded. It is a competitive world out there, so have many backup plans.


See the NSF web site at:


Individuals don't generally apply directly for NSF funding. You could apply for certain grants as a non-profit or for-profit corporation, but the funding opportunities for these are limited.

The most reasonable way for you to work this would be for your colleague to submit the proposal through the prof's university with an arrangement where you'd become an employee of the university if the grant is funded. It's also possible for the prof to submit a proposal and budget for you to work on the project as a consultant, but it can be harder to get such an arrangement approved.

  • 1
    In the document you link, point 5 says that unaffiliated individuals can be proposers. So I'm not sure your answer matches with the NSF document. Thanks for pointing me to that though. I couldn't find it with my google searches. And if I'm a Co-PI with a Prof at a major research university, then that seems even more likely.
    – moorepants
    Feb 27, 2015 at 1:37
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    Notice the second requirement "The proposer agrees to fiscal arrangements that, in the opinion of the NSF Division of Grants & Agreements, ensure responsible management of Federal funds." I think you'll find it very difficult to satisfy this requirement. I've edited my answer to correct this. Feb 27, 2015 at 2:15

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