NIH Shares Applicant, Awardee Counts for Early-Stage Investigators

Funding News Edition: August 18, 2021
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In his recent blog post “Data on Implementing NIH’s Next Generation Researchers Initiative,” Dr. Mike Lauer, NIH deputy director for extramural research, examines the number of principal investigators (PIs) who were awarded or applied for an R01-equivalent grant, grouped by career stage (e.g., early-stage, established), for each of the past five fiscal years. He also compares demographics within career stage groups (e.g., male, Hispanic or Latino) for the previous fiscal year.

NIH strives to address longstanding challenges faced by researchers trying to embark upon and sustain independent research careers, as well as promote the stability and diversity of the biomedical research workforce. The data presented by Dr. Lauer reveal recent successes in raising funding rates for early-stage and at-risk investigators—in the case of early-stage investigators, an improvement in funding rate from 23.6 percent in fiscal year (FY) 2016 to 27.7 percent in FY 2020, even as the number of early-stage investigator applicants grew by nearly 25 percent, from 4,149 to 5,106, in the same time frame.

We encourage you to explore the data for yourself. But before you do, refresh your knowledge of relevant NIH terminology and the advantages NIAID affords new investigators.

Key Terminology

There are several career-stage designations you should know:

  • Established PI—a PI who has previously competed successfully as a PI for a substantial NIH independent research award (e.g., R01-equivalent)
  • New PI—a PI who has not previously competed successfully as a PI for a substantial NIH independent research award
  • Early-Stage Investigator (ESI)—a PI who has completed his or her terminal research degree or end of post-graduate clinical training within the past 10 years and has not previously competed successfully as a PI for a substantial NIH independent research award
  • New, Not Early—shorthand for an investigator who qualifies as a new PI but not as an ESI; can occur if an investigator held non-PI roles only on past projects (e.g., staff scientist) or if all past projects were funded by non-NIH sources (e.g., Canadian Institutes of Health Research)
  • At-Risk PI—an established PI who, unless successful in securing a substantial research grant award in the current fiscal year, will have no substantial research grant funding in the following fiscal year

As the definitions make apparent, all ESIs are new PIs, but not all new PIs are ESIs.

Dr. Lauer’s blog post refers to funding rates, whereas this newsletter more often cites success rates, so it’s helpful to understand the difference between those two terms as well:

  • Funding rate—the likelihood of an applicant investigator being funded; calculated by dividing the number of unique PIs receiving new funding in a fiscal year by the number of unique PIs with applications reviewed in a fiscal year
  • Success rate—the likelihood of an application getting funded; calculated by dividing the number of awards made in a fiscal year by the number of applications submitted, excluding resubmissions

Suppose an investigator submits three applications and none are funded, but then resubmits one of those applications and it is funded. She would have a funding rate of 100 percent (one awarded PI divided by one applicant PI), but a success rate of 33 percent (one award made divided by three unique applications, since the resubmission is counted as one with its corresponding new application).

Relevant NIAID Policies

As explained on our Information for New Investigators webpage, NIAID sets a higher R01 payline for new PIs to make it easier for that group to get an award, generally four percentiles higher than the payline for established PIs (e.g., 18 versus 14 for FY 2021). We do so to create parity in success rates between established PIs and new PIs.

Further, we use selective pay and R56-Bridge awards to fund some applications from new PIs with percentiles that missed the payline by a small margin.

For initial peer review, when feasible, new PI applications are not interspersed with those of established PIs at the review meeting. Additionally, summary statements for new PI R01 applications are prioritized and, when possible, released before summary statements for other applications reviewed in the same meeting.

Reference NIH’s Early-Stage Investigator Policies for additional resources, such as special award programs for new investigators.

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