Shows Us What You’re Working With: Consultants, Collaborators and Co-Is

The age-old attempt at definitions of consultants vs. collaborators is one wrangled by both administrators and PIs alike. A wicket more sticky presents itself when comparing collaborators and co-investigators!  So when, then, is it appropriate to use each classification?

Consultant vs. Collaborator

Let’s start by comparing consultants and collaborators: occasionally, people play BOTH roles.  The term “consultant” is used when a person is providing advice or services. They may participate significantly in the research, but often they help fill in smaller gaps, for example, providing a key supply, technical review, or equipment set-up/adjustment. Consultants do not receive a salary from your grant but may receive a fee. When paying them, WSU will need to issue a Form 1099 Misc to the IRS.

Collaborators always play an active role in the research. They are not paid a fee, but the grant may pay part of their salary in person months through a consortium agreement or subaward. Collaborators are issued a Form W-2 (from their institution if other than WSU) as opposed to the 1099.

Consultants are easiest to define: they provide advice and services for a fee. This is clearly stated in letters of support, which include the fee structure.

For more information on using subawards and subcontracts, stay tuned next week!


Collaborator vs. Co-I

Co-Investigators and collaborators both traditionally have effort assigned on a project and can have (but are not required to have) compensation, which may explain why they are often terms used interchangeably.  They are, however, different animals! Collaborators are associated with the grantee institution and Co-Investigators can come from either the institution or another institution.  The biggest difference is the level of involvement in the scientific thinking of the project.  Think of it as a continuum from PI to co-investigator to collaborator regarding the theory and logistics of the project itself.  There is somewhat subjective leeway given on how “levels of involvement” are perceived in the context of specific scientific fields; keep in mind what the normal roles are and expectations are in your scientific community.

In your application, the Personnel Justification will ask you to explain the roles of these people and ask you to provide letters. If any difference exists in the scientific communities as to how these terms are used, the letters will be the place to explain this.  Be sure that the letters outlining the roles of the personnel are very closely matched to the expectations set forth by the PI in the “Personnel Justification” section. Reviewers can tell when a person listed is actually wanted on the project, or if they’re just listed because their prominence in the field is an attempt to boost the score!


Other Significant Contributors

This is the section where you can list your prestige-boosting personnel that aren’t as material to the project.  Other Significant Contributors are similar to co-investigators, but don’t have defined effort, just effort as needed. In terms of the continuum, this is the person that would be called if you’re having trouble with this particular experiment, need a fresh pair of eyes for data interpretation, etc.

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