Information for New Investigators

Information for New Investigators

NIH and NIAID want to fund more new scientists and have created special programs and funding approaches to meet that goal.

How Being New Helps You

When applying for your first independent NIH research grant, new and early-stage investigators get some breaks:

  • Higher paylines
    • NIH sets target numbers for funding new and early-stage R01 investigators.
    • As a result, NIAID uses a higher R01 payline, making it easier for new investigators to get an award. Go to NIAID Paylines for current information.
    • Other NIH Institutes set special paylines for early-stage investigators as well.
  • Initial peer review
    • Peer reviewers look more at potential than achievement—they weigh your academic and research background heavily.
    • Reviewers may expect new R01 investigators to have fewer preliminary data and publications than more established researchers do.
    • When feasible, new and early-stage investigator applications are not interspersed with those of established investigators at the review meeting.
    • You get at least one month to revise and resubmit your R01 application for the next review cycle. You receive your summary statement no later than March 10, July 10, or November 10, and instead of following the standard resubmission deadlines, you can resubmit by April 10, August 10, or December 10, respectively.
  • Both NIH and NIAID have programs to help new and early-stage investigators
    • Selective pay and R56-Bridge awards
      • New and early-stage investigators who have top-quality applications are strong candidates for NIAID's selective pay or R56-Bridge awards. We use these approaches to fund some applications with percentiles that missed the payline by a small margin.
      • You cannot apply for either program; your NIAID program officer must nominate you. Your program officer will let you know if this is likely and, in any case, advise you on your next steps.
      • For both programs, we choose applications based on high relevance to our mission as well as scientific merit. Read more in the NIAID R56-Bridge Award SOP.
    • Educational loan repayment programs

How to Qualify for New and Early-Stage Investigator Status

NIH has two types of special status for people applying for their first independent R01: new investigator and early-stage investigator (ESI). For detailed definitions, see Definitions of New and Early Stage Investigators.

New investigator defined. To qualify as a new investigator, you cannot have been a PI on certain NIH grants that you applied for. 

You can still qualify if you become a PI on a grant you did not apply for, e.g., if your institution assigns you to be the PI of an existing grant.

Early-stage investigator (ESI) defined. A subset of new investigator status, an ESI is a scientist who is within 10 years of either of the following:

  • Terminal research degree
  • Medical residency or equivalent

You can request an extension of your ESI status past the 10-year window due to special circumstances. Read the instructions at the bottom of the NIH Form for Requesting an Extension. Justify your request with details.  

Previous Award Status

Once you apply for and receive certain NIH grants, you no longer qualify to be a new investigator or an ESI.

See the list of exceptions in the NIH Definition of a New Investigator. For R21/R33 and phase II small business awards, pay attention to the "Note regarding transitional grants" at the bottom of the section.

If an award isn't on that list, you would lose your ESI or new investigator status as soon as you receive a grant.

If you are added to a grant as a PI after award, it doesn't affect your new PI status.

Caveats for multiple PI applications. Multiple PI applications have big consequences for new PIs:

  • If your application includes an established PI, it will not qualify for the new investigator payline. You'll qualify for it only if all PIs are new.
  • Once the multiple PI application is funded, you can no longer apply as a new investigator—you have lost your new PI status.

Identify Yourself!

Enter degree and discipline-specific training dates in your Commons profile.

That information will enable NIH to identify new investigators and ESIs. Also make sure your biosketch states that you are a new investigator or ESI.

Once you've entered your information, it's important to check your Commons profile to make sure your new or ESI status is in order. That's because even though the system uses data you put in, it has its limitations.

If your status isn't correct, contact the Service Desk and ask that they change it. In your email, include your name and the application number.

Plan For Your Career Goals

It's a good idea to start planning your career goals before you choose your first project. But first, test your qualifications.

Conduct a self-evaluation. To see whether you qualify to apply for an independent research grant such as an R01, follow the analysis steps at Determine Eligibility for NIAID Grants.

Then consider your organization's expectations, for example, the level of position you need to qualify to apply for different types of grants.

Your qualifications lay the foundation for your grant seeking efforts: your peer reviewers—your application's audience—must deem you qualified to complete the work you propose.

For an R01, you'll need significant experience and a publication record (first or last author) in respected journals, or a history of overseeing projects, in your field—for example, TB research.

To assess your qualifications, we suggest following these steps:

  • Evaluate your training, publications, and presentations at scientific meetings in the field
  • Be critical: look at yourself through the eyes of your future reviewers
  • Ask colleagues or advisors to make the same assessment of you

If you're a seasoned grantee wishing to enter a new field, you may want to start with a small grant type such as an exploratory/developmental research grant (R21) or a small grant (R03) before trying for an R01.

Anyone needing more experience or wanting to change fields should also consider getting more training in the new area.

If you are still developing your career, take the time to learn about different fields.

If you want to change fields, consider doing a postdoc in the new area. Or you may want to look into our Career Development Awards (K), which are especially helpful for postdocs.

Create a plan. Focus on a single research goal you'd like to accomplish during the next ten years or so. Then divide that goal into objectives that can become projects you could achieve in three to five years, the length of a grant award.

Even if you're still a postdoctoral research associate, get started. There's no need to wait until you are in an academic job to begin writing your first application.

Starting now lets you tap the knowledge of people who are familiar with your work and in the best position to give you feedback. And the experience of writing an application will increase your chances of future success, even if your first attempt fails.

Getting a head start also helps you avoid running down the start-up support you should negotiate when you get your first academic position.

Be sure to negotiate enough support to tide you over the long application process. After applying, it can take two years to get a grant, even longer if you have to start over with a new application.

Don't expect your first application to succeed—most people must resubmit (try again) before they get funded.

And after getting your first award, be sure to continue planning ahead. See Approaches for Staying Funded.

More Advice and Information for New Investigators

We offer additional advice and information on other stages of the grant process elsewhere in the Grants and Contracts section, including many notes in context that are specific to new investigators.

As examples, see the following:

For many more topics, use the navigation on the left.

Have Questions?

A program officer in your area of science can give you application advice, NIAID's perspective on your research, and confirmation that NIAID will accept your application.

Find contacts and instructions at When to Contact a NIAID Program Officer.

Content last reviewed on August 11, 2016