Personnel TBD

May 10 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

One of the many things that suck about being an utterly broke PI is having to put "TBD" for all personnel in NIH grant budget justifications. You are essentially saying, "trust me, I'll find someone to do the work." But why should they? To me, having competent personnel in place is as much a "feasibility" situation as having preliminary data for all your Aims. Why should they trust you to get the work done if they don't even know who's going to do it?

So the question is, should I add a note somewhere (either in the introduction to the Personnel justification or in the biosketch statement where you account for gaps in productivity or whatever) that says, in effect, "Look, my lab is empty because I have no money to pay anyone, so everyone here is TBD. Past personnel searches have resulted in X quality applications. If you give me some (money), I am confident that I will promptly re-populate the lab with highly qualified individuals who can carry out the work in this proposal."

Or no?  For those of you on study sections, have you seen applicants dinged for "TBD" personnel?

10 responses so far

  • boehninglab says:

    I put TBD on my grants all the time. Actually, probably every single grant. It has never been an issue for my grants or the study sections I have sat on. In general, my staff are 100% covered on one grant/project. If I start a new project, there are going to be new staff hired to complete that work. I don't know why a reviewer would expect that you have a magical pot of money to pay the people to work on a new project prior to getting the funding.

  • drugmonkey says:

    IME, limited as it may be,

    TBD Postdoc will conduct blah de blah and work with blahhaa PI, Investigators to zippydee doo dah all day, etc

    barely raises notice, never mind objection. I mean, it could be a trigger point for an antagonist, sure. After the antagonist has already decided to hate on the grant and goes looking for grist. But I tend to doubt that this in and of itself would sink an otherwise glowing review.

    Of course it is a positive feature if you can list a current trainee that is already kicking butt in your lab. But I don't think the countervailing negative for a TBD is at all equivalent.

    If you write in both tech time and Postdoc time, maybe if your timeline can acknowledge that it may take a bit longer to recruit the PD but that the tech will start right away it would help a little?

  • David says:

    I haven't reviewed for NIH, but have for another federal agency. Came across a single TBD once; it was a relatively low level position within the app and I didn't think twice about it. I was also once part of a project that got funded with two TBD slots (two summer workers, one graduate level and one undergraduate - I was one of those students). Didn't seem to hinder getting funding (no clue who funded it).

    If the slot is "easy" to fill (such as a work study student or some skill that is readily available, say an x-ray tech), I don't think it would be an issue. For a more specialized position, I agree with your idea to be up front about it. The reviewers will notice and if it's not addressed in some fashion, you will be knocked for feasibility. Personally, I don't looked heavily into each bio, but I do want to have a strong sense that the project will be completed.

  • Dr24 says:

    I've put TBD for statisticians and trainees without anyone blinking.

  • Dr24 says:

    But I would definitely recommend that you have a nice crew of named Co-Is on the project to should it isn't the Doc Becca and Hope show.

  • Arlenna says:

    I put TBD all the time even if I know who might do the work in my group, partly because I am never sure who is going to be on what fellowship etc. at any given time, so I don't know who will be paid by what grant, and partly because it's more complicated and time consuming to get their biosketch figured out etc. etc. when they might not even end up doing it. I detail these things in the progress report upon actually getting the funding.

  • qaz says:

    I have been on many NIH study sections, NSF panels, and their equivalent over the last more than a dozen years. I have never once seen personnel TBD even so much as raise an eyebrow.

  • potnia theron says:

    Ditto for what qaz says. I have never even seen this come up in discussion. Nor have I ever seen a mention in the "investigator" section anything other than PI/ consultant/ senior people.

    There are lots of reasons people have TBA on their proposals, including changes in focus, current personnel are continuing on ongoing projects, etc.

    Also useful to go back & read instructions (to submitter & reviewer). Nothing about people in group.

  • namnezia says:

    Agreed, TBD is NBD.

  • Jane says:

    I have been to many NIH study sections. I have never heard at the Study Sections that TBD was brought up. I myself do not see that as a weakness either. Hoecer, I was told a long time ago when I was still very junior by a senior PI that TBD was viewed negatively. So a tiny fraction of reviewers may not like TBD if the PIs apparantly have money. If the PI dies not have active support as shown in the biosketch, it is conceivable that he/she has to hire new folks when the grant is funded. However, I think it is important to make sure you do not list too few efforts for the technical staff will will actually do the experiments.

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