Saturday, June 7, 2014

Distributing effort on your grants (especially if you have an R00)

The original post was published on 6/7/2014, but updated with additional info following some great comments on 7/30/2013

When I was leaving my postdoc lab, my boss told me to be careful about my effort because when he started he did not pay much attention to it and soon he was stuck with no effort to give. In my head I was thinking "That's a nice problem to have, but that will definitely not happen to me".  Well, actually with 75% effort often tied to an R00 award, that is a real problem to consider. Especially if you go on a grant writing frenzy as I did. So I have learned a few things about distributing effort in the past year.

1) You may need to keep 5-15% for teaching and other academic activities. This will depend on where you are and how much the university contributes to your salary, but this was news to me. I guess it makes sense, since teaching and service must come from somewhere. If you commit yourself 100% to research then you have no effort to give for administrative and other work. Some universities will ask that you put 100% of your salary on grants, but others will not, so you need to discuss with your department chair or your grants administrator how to do this.

2) You must plan the distribution of your effort. If you have an R00, you must spend 75% of your effort on research and at the beginning this will be tied to your R00. If you are planning to apply for a bigger grant, like an R01 and want to devote 25-30% effort, you need to communicate with your Program Officer and let them know, so that when the grant gets funded you can adjust your R00 effort. The 75% research rule can be tricky, as different NIH institutes may have different policies and you should familiarize yourself with yours. You can also opt for foundation grants and you have to be careful about effort there. Most of these grants, while substantial, will not allow PI salary, but still require effort. I put 10 or 15% effort on every grant I applied for and quickly would have been out, since these grants were on a different project. Every grant had to be reduced to 5% and I heard of people putting 1 or 0.5% on foundation grants. Foundations tend to be more lenient with effort and will provide 1-2 full salaries for the people working on the actual research, so that you have someone with 100% effort on the project and you just need to provide direction.

3) Effort may be not tied to actual grant money (cost-sharing). You may put effort on a grant which does not allow PI salary and your department may cost-share your salary, i.e. agree to pay that portion of your salary necessary for you to perform/guide the research. Doing some internet searches I discovered cost-sharing is not favored by some schools where departments prefer not to pay, but it is something that you should keep in mind.

4) You must plan your grant strategy in advance. With my R00 ending early in 2016, I should apply for an R01 in February or June next year (see timelines for review here). Because some grants may take more than a year to be approved and funded, you need to consider where that big chunk of your salary is coming from each year, thinking a year and a half ahead.

5) Buy out of teaching or buy into teaching. If you have enough effort on grants and do not want to teach, you can buy out of teaching. Conversely, if you need the university to pay more of your salary, you can add a course to your load.

Your grants administrator or your department chair should be able to help you devise a strategy on how to best distribute your effort. Effort reporting is strictly regulated, especially on federal funds, so you have to consider all these issues carefully and make sure your effort is appropriately distributed. The NIH has some handy descriptions on how to calculate effort distribution here.

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