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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 concerted efforts over several decades, the average age at which an investigator first obtains R01 funding increased by five to six years between 1980 and 2001. In the period between 2001 and the current year, the age of PhDs has remained relatively constant at around 42. The age at first award for MDs and MD/PhDs has continued to increase. Policy changes adopted in 2007 and in subsequent years have substantially increased the number and the percentage of competing R01 awards going to New Investigators. In 2006, 1,362 New Investigators received R01 awards amounting to 23.9 percent of all competing R01s. By 2010, the 2,091 New Investigators constituted 31.8 percent of all competing R01s. In spite of substantial increases in both the number and percentage of New Investigators, the average age at first award has not decreased.
In 2009, NIH instituted a new adjunct to the New Investigator policies 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. In order to encourage a reduction in the period of training leading to independence, the NIH Institutes and Centers monitor their New Investigator pool to make sure that approximately half have ESI status. Applications from ESIs, like those from all New Investigators, are given special consideration during peer review and at the time of funding. Peer reviewers are instructed to focus more on the proposed approach than on the track record, and to expect less preliminary information than might 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, but many of the controlling factors appear to operate at the institutional level. My hope is that institutions will 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.
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 substantial 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 early stage or small research grants or for the indicated training, infrastructure, and career awards:
Additionally, the PD/PI is not excluded from consideration as a “New Investigator” if he/she hasbeen the PD/PI of received an award from any of the following classes of awards:
Training-Related and Mentored Career Awards
Instrumentation, Construction, Education, Health Disparity Endowment Grants, or Meeting Awards
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 in order for the application to have the New Investigator designation.
Note regarding transitional grants: Research grants that combine a smaller initial award that transitions without further competition to a second phase supported by a substantial, independent research grant will discontinue the New Investigator status for the PD/PI(s) at the point of transition to the larger award. This includes combined, transitional awards like the R21/R33, SBIR/STTR Fast-Track (R42, UT2, R44, U44), UH2/UH3.
Frequently Asked Questions about NIH New and 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.
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.
The NIH Director's New Innovator Award addresses two important goals: stimulating highly innovative research and supporting promising early stage 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 early stage 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.
The NIH Common Fund has established the NIH Director's Early Independence Award to provide a mechanism for exceptional early career scientists to move rapidly into independent research positions at U.S. institutions by essentially omitting the traditional post-doctoral training period. Complete information is available at http://commonfund.nih.gov/earlyindependence/
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