A History of New and Early Stage Investigator Policies and Data

History of Commitment to New Investigators

Statement of Support for New Investigators, NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research, 2011

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 our country's biomedical research enterprise. The NIH interest in the training and research funding of new investigators is deep and longstanding. Over the years, special programs to assist new investigators in obtaining independent research funding have been created. 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 2011, 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 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 remained constant.

In 2009, NIH instituted a new adjunct to the New Investigator policies involving the identification of Early Stage Investigators (ESIs). 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.

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

Historical Data on New Investigators