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New and Early Stage Investigator Policies

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Statement of Commitment to New and Early Stage Investigators

New investigators are the innovators of the future - they bring fresh ideas and technologies to existing biomedical research problems, and they pioneer new areas of investigation. Entry of new investigators into the ranks of independent, NIH-funded researchers is essential to the health of this country’s biomedical research enterprise. NIH’s interest in the training and research funding of new investigators is understandably deep and longstanding. Over the years, special programs to assist new investigators in obtaining independent research funding have been created (see History of Commitment on these pages).   In spite of these concerted efforts, the average age at which an investigator first obtains R01 funding increased by five to six years between 1980 and 2001 (PowerPoint - 44 KB). During the doubling of the NIH between FY 1998 and 2003, the number of new R01 investigators increased from about 1,500 to more than 1,680.  New Investigators accounted for approximately 25 percent of all competing R01 recipients during this period.  After the doubling, the number and percentage of new investigators declined reaching a low of 1,365 in FY 2006 and then responding to renewed NIH efforts, increased in FY 2007 and 2008. 

In order to address both the duration of training and to protect the flux of new investigators, the NIH announced a new policy in fiscal year 2009 involving the identification of Early Stage Investigators (ESIs) (see the Section on Early Stage Investigators, below).  ESIs are New Investigators who are within 10 years of completing their terminal research degree or within 10 years of completing their medical residency at the time they apply for R01 grants.  Applications from ESIs will be given special consideration during peer review and at the time of funding. Peer reviewers will be instructed to focus more on the proposed approach than on the track record, and to expect less preliminary data than would be provided by an established investigator.

The NIH remains committed to identifying and attracting new biomedical researchers and will continue to explore novel ways to encourage early transition to independence. However, the NIH cannot do this alone. Institutions - our partners in this venture - must continue to look for ways to reduce the duration of graduate and postdoctoral training and to find new ways to enable new investigators to compete successfully for extramural funding.

As always, I welcome your ideas in this regard.

Sally Rockey, PhD, Acting Deputy Director for Extramural Research, NIH

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Definition of New Investigator

In general, a Program Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI) is considered a New Investigator if he/she has not previously competed successfully as PD/PI for a significant NIH independent research award.  Specifically, a PD/PI is identified as a New Investigator if he/she has not previously competed successfully for an NIH-supported research project other than the following small or early stage research awards:

  • Pathway to Independence Award-Research Phase (R00)
  • Small Grant (R03)
  • Academic Research Enhancement Award (R15)
  • Exploratory/Developmental Grant (R21)
  • Clinical Trial Planning Grant (R34)
  • Dissertation Award (R36)
  • Small Business Technology Transfer Grant-Phase I (R41)
  • Small Business Innovation Research Grant-Phase I (R43)
  • Shannon Award (R55)
  • NIH High Priority, Short-Term Project Award (R56)
  • Competitive Research Pilot Projects (SC2, SC3)

Additionally, the PD/PI is not excluded from consideration as a “New Investigator” if he/she has received an award from any of the following classes of awards:

Training-Related and Mentored Career Awards

  • All Fellowships (F awards)
  • All career awards (K awards)             
  • Loan repayment contracts (L30, L32, L40, L50, L60)

Instrumentation, Construction, Education, Health Disparity Endowment Grants, or Meeting Awards

  • G07, G08, G11, G13, G20
  • S10, S15, S21, S22

Note regarding grants with Multiple PD/PIs:  In the case of a grant application that involves more than one PI, all PD/PIs must meet the definition of New Investigator to check “Yes” in the “New Investigator” box.

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding the Definition of New Investigator.

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Early Stage Investigator Policies

This policy represents a change in NIH New Investigator policies designed to encourage early transition to independence.  Under this policy, New Investigators within ten years of completing their terminal research degree or within ten years of completing their medical residency will be designated Early Stage Investigators (ESIs).  Traditional NIH research grant (R01s) applications from ESIs will be identified and the career stage of the applicant will be considered at the time of review and award. 

  • Definition of Early Stage Investigator: A Program Director/Principal Investigator who qualifies as a New Investigator is considered an Early Stage Investigator (ESI) if he/she is  within 10 years of completing his/her terminal research degree or is within 10 years of completing medical residency (or the equivalent). 
  • Implementing the Early Stage Investigator Policy: Updating eRA Commons Profiles to Include Degree and Residency Completion Dates, November 21, 2008, NOT-OD-09-021
  • Encouraging Early Transition to Research Independence: Modifying the NIH New Investigator Policy to Identify Early Stage Investigators, September 26, 2008 NOT-OD-08-121
  • Revised New and Early Stage Investigator Policies, October 31, 2008, NOT-OD-09-013
  • New Requesting an Extension of the ESI Period, December 31, 2008, NOT-OD-09-034
  • New Frequently Asked Questions Regarding the NIH Early Stage Investigator (ESI) Policy.

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Pathway to Independence Award (K99-R00)   

The primary, long-term goal of the Pathway to Independence (PI) Award program is to increase and maintain a strong cohort of new and talented NIH-supported independent investigators.  The PI award program is designed to facilitate a timely transition from a mentored postdoctoral research position to a stable independent research position with independent NIH or other independent research support at an earlier stage than is currently the norm. 

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NIH Director’s New Innovator Award   

The NIH Director's New Innovator Award addresses two important goals: stimulating highly innovative research and supporting promising new investigators. Many new investigators have exceptionally innovative research ideas, but not the preliminary data required to fare well in the traditional NIH peer review system. As part of NIH's commitment to increasing opportunities for new scientists, it has created the NIH Director's New Innovator Award to support exceptionally creative new investigators who propose highly innovative projects that have the potential for unusually high impact. This award complements ongoing efforts by NIH and its institutes and centers to fund new investigators through R01 grants and other mechanisms.

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NIH Institute and Center Policies Related to First-Time Investigator Support   

FIC - Fogarty International Center

NCI - National Cancer Institute

NEI - National Eye Institute

NHGRI - National Human Genome Research Institute (PDF - 44.5 KB)

NHLBI - National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

NIA - National Institute on Aging

NIAAA - National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

NIAID - National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

NIAMS - National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

NIBIB - National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering

NICHD - National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

NIDCD - National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders

NIDCR - National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research

NIDDK - National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease

NIEHS - National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

NIGMS - National Institute of General Medical Sciences

NIMH - National Institute of Mental Health

NINDS - National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

NLM - National Library of Medicine



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Early Stage Investigator Policies: Archives and Resources  


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