What’s in a Name?

tricia callahan

The power of a name has long been immortalized in poetry, mythology, prose, religious and other ceremonies. Countless books are on the market for soon-to-be parents citing the etymology and history behind thousands and thousands of names. A recent search in the book department on Amazon.com yielded 125,407 results of books on baby naming, some books touting over 100,000 names from which to choose!

How individuals are named or identified in proposals is important. Proper identification helps reviewers to understand an individual’s or organization’s role on a project. For instance, proper identification tells the sponsor who is ultimately responsible for the direction of the project and if a contributing individual or entity is involved with the scientific development of the project.

Often investigators need assistance in specifying how people should be identified in the proposal. To help clarify, below are some commonly used titles that appear in proposals, along with definitions and examples to help investigators distinguish between designations.

Principal Investigator (PI): The PI is often the lead scientist for a given project. The primary PI on a proposal serves as the point of contact for that proposal or application. Often times the sponsoring agency will define the qualifications of a person who can serve as a PI. Additionally, institutions often define who can, as well as who cannot, serve as a PI on a proposal. At CSU, PI eligibility is outlined in the PI Eligibility Guidance.

Project Director (PD): The PI and PD designations may be used interchangeably. For instance, the NIH often uses the term PD/PI to represent “…the individual(s) judged by the applicant organization to have the appropriate level of authority and responsibility to direct the project or program supported by the grant.” There are times however, that a proposal might have a PI and a PD, with the PI acting as the fiscal representative for the grant, while the PD oversees the daily operations of the project or of a specific program.

Co-Principal Investigator (Co-PI): “Co” signifies jointly or together. The term Co-PI implies a sharing of responsibility, and thus a sharing of scholarly credit for a given endeavor. Some agencies allow for multiple Co-PIs. The NIH prohibited the use of Co-PI and opted in favor of a PI with co-investigators (Co-I’s) or a multi-PD/PI option. Investigators choosing the multi-PD/PI option are required to develop a leadership plan that outlines the roles and responsibilities of each PI, the fiscal management of the funds by each PI, the processes for making decisions on the scientific direction of the project, as well as allocation of resources, how data will be shared among investigators, ownership of intellectual property and publications, and procedures for resolving conflicts should they occur.

Co-Investigator (Co-I): The label “Co-Investigator” started being used more frequently when the NIH stopped allowing the use of Co-PI and encouraged the use of either multi-PD/PI lead projects or co-investigators. According to the NIH, a co-investigator is “An individual involved with the PD/PI in the scientific development or execution of a project…”

Senior Personnel: Often times the terms “senior” and “key” personnel are used interchangeably. A senior or key person is an individual who contributes to the scientific development or execution of the project in a substantive and measurable way. Senior or key personnel would include the principal investigator, project director, co-principal investigator, and co-investigator.

Key Personnel: (a.k.a., senior personnel). I recently read what I thought was a very telling, succinct exclusion definition of “key personnel.” According to PCORI (Patient –Centered Outcomes Research Institute), “…anyone who could be replaced without significantly affecting the direction or conduct of the project should not be listed as key personnel.” If you are wondering, “Should I list my graduate student as key personnel?” ask yourself, “Could any graduate student with similar training and qualifications fill that role?” If yes, then that person should not be listed as key personnel.

Other Personnel: The “other personnel” category is used to capture personnel who are not senior or key to the proposal. These are usually people who are not committing any specific measurable effort to the project and can be replaced without significantly affecting the aims of the project. Usually graduate students, undergraduate students, postdoctoral fellows, lab technicians, IT professionals, and clerical support are included in the “other personnel” category.

Participant: I once received a collaborative budget that listed all of PI’s travel, travel for graduate students, and all of the undergraduate student travel under “Participant Support.” Their reasoning was that they had to travel to conduct the research, thus their travel costs should fall under “Participant Support.” Luckily for me, Uniform Guidance defines “Participant Support” as “… direct costs for items such as stipends or subsistence allowances, travel allowances, and registration fees paid to or on behalf of participants or trainees (but not employees) in connection with conference or training projects.” It is important to carefully consider what goes into this category since overhead cannot be taken on participant support costs. Additionally, it is often necessary to get sponsor permission to move funds out of this category once awarded. Finally, participants in a research project (i.e., human subjects) are not trainees and their incentive payments should be budgeted under “Other Direct Costs.”

Consultant: A consultant is an individual who provides professional advice or services. Typically consultants are not officers or employees of the performing organization and use their own equipment/materials.

Subrecipient: A subrecipient organization is one in which individuals from that organization are contributing to the scholarly or scientific conduct of the project as described in a statement of work for the organization.

Vendor: A vendor differs from a subrecipient organization in that they are a distributor or merchant who provides goods and services to many different purchasers. Vendors typically operate in a competitive environment, and while their goods and services contribute to the operation of the project, they do not contribute to the scientific conduct of the project.

Patient(s): For granting purposes, a patient is an individual or individuals who have or have had the condition under study. The category of “patient” may also include patient surrogates or caregivers.

While the list above is not 100% comprehensive, it does cover a good deal of the commonly used terms typically found in grant proposals. As always, check the sponsor’s guidelines before adopting the use of any nomenclature (i.e., stick to your sponsor’s terminology). Careful selection of the appropriate name will help clarify the roles that a particular individual or entity will play on the project.

Written by Tricia Callahan, Senior Research Education and Information Officer, Office of Sponsored Programs, Colorado State University.