New & Early Stage Investigators Update & Advice

The NIH released a notice addressing its Revised New and Early Stage Investigator (ESI) Policies. I normally wouldn’t pull this out for emphasis except the NIH finally gives clear guidance on the mechanism of choice for new investigators: the R01.

The NIH strongly encourages New Investigators, particularly ESIs, to apply for R01 grants when seeking first-time NIH funding.

I have always given this advice for a range of reasons, some of which we discussed previously in reviewing the presentation by an NCI program officer. Some ICs, specifically NIDDK, make it clear they don’t want to see new investigators turn to mechanisms like the R21 as a starter grant, while others, like NINR, set aside the R03 mechanism for new investigators. Two years? Restricted budgets? Not renewable? Who could possibly advise a new investigator with limited time (tenure clock ticking) and resources to invest in applications that face stiff competition yet do little to advance said new investigator on the road to independence? The notice provides a little data to back up this advice:

However, recent analyses indicate that a smaller proportion of individuals with initial R21 or R03 grant support subsequently apply for and obtain R01-equivalent funding. In addition, the initial success rate for R21 applications often is lower than for R01 applications. Since R03 and R21 grants are limited in scope and period of support, they may not be the most effective way to launch an independent research career.

According to the notice, for FY09, NIH expects to support New Investigators at success rates equivalent to that of established investigators submitting new applications. The majority of New Investigators supported in FY09 are expected to be ESIs. SROs will be asked to cluster applications from New Investigators during initial peer review to the extent possible, depending on reviewer availability. The expectation is that these applications will be more effectively evaluated when judged against other applications from individuals at the same career stage. We’ll see.



  1. Good advice, both your longstanding position and now the NIH recommendation. The payoff-to-time expenditure ratio is in the long run much better for the R01 than a R03 or R21. R21s are especially a nightmare because they are still often reviewed together with R01s (which also leaves me a bit skeptical that clustering new R01 apps will provide any real advantage to the New Investigators.).. I’m now seeing R03s pulled out into their own SEPs but 1) reviewers still have to be reminded they are not R01s and 2) it seems like an awful lot of effort, for both reviewers and applicants, for a $50K/yr, 2 yr award if they are still not practically being judged as high-risk pilot projects.

  2. R21s and R03s are a fucking ridiculous waste of effort for *any* investigator, not just new ones:

  3. BB said

    Well the NIDDK and NCI better get their acts together, ’cause in pancreatic cancer all they are funding (jointly) are RO3 and R21 grants!!

  4. newbie prof said

    Does being a Co-PI on a T32 NIH-Training Grant disqualify you from being an ESI or New Investigator?

  5. writedit said

    Are you really a Principal Investigator, such that the notice of award officially acknowledges the multiple PI/PD assignment? I suspect you are listed as a co-investigator but not one of two or more formally assigned Principal Investigators. This would be especially true on a T32, where each PI (if multiple) would be expected to be independently funded.

    Since I suspect you are not truly a PI on a T32, you should still be eligible to check the New Investigator status box, assuming you have not received any of the other disqualifying awards (see below). The ESI status depends on how long ago you completed your terminal degree or, for clinicians, residency training (must be within 10 y).

    Final word of wisdom regarding the multiple PI/PD option: If you are currently a New Investigator, DON’T DO IT! You lose your New Investigator status on a shared award (assuming it’s among the disqualifying awards), and for that application to receive special review status, all the PIs listed must be new. You are better off being listed in the budget as a Senior/Key Personnel instead. Save participation as part of a multiple PI/PD application for after you’ve received your own award as a New Investigator.

    Definition of a 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)

    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

    Fellowships (F05, F30, F31, F32, F34, F37, F38)
    Mentored-career awards (K01, K08, K22, K23, K25, K99-R00)
    Other mentored career awards (developmental K02 as used by NINDS and the developmental K07)
    Loan repayment contracts (L30, L32, L40, L50, L60)

    Please note that current or past recipients of non-mentored career awards that normally require independent research support (K02, K05, K24, and K26) are not considered new investigators.

    Instrumentation, Construction, Education, or Meeting Awards

    G07, G08, G11, G13, G20
    S10, S15
    X01, X02
    C06, UC6
    R13, U13

    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.

  6. writedit said

    Science reports that the NIH created the ESI category to encourage more new investigator submissions and awards early in their career to “adjust for the recently discovered fact that only about 55% of investigators who receive their first NIH grants are at an early stage of their career.”

    Long-time readers of this blog may recall that I reported the oldest “new investigator” identified by NIH staff as clocking in at … 82 years. Wonder how his Type 2 submission did.

  7. writedit said

    Update: The NIH issued a notice explaining how to update your eRA Commons profile to be considered for ESI eligibility and how to request an extension of ESI eligibility.

  8. writedit said

    ‘Nuther Update: NIAID gives their take on the new/ESI investigator set-asides and their own targets.

  9. writedit said

    Update: The NIH issued a Notice explaining how to request an extension of your ESI period beyond 10 years. Acceptable reasons for such an extension include “medical concerns, disability, family care responsibilities, extended periods of clinical training, natural disasters, and active duty military service.” A Web-based form with which to request an extension and a FAQ document on the process will become available at the New & Early Stage Investigator portal on January 17, 2009. The Notice briefly reviews factors to be used in evaluating such requests.

  10. […] it was suggested that maybe I should go for an R21 to get more data. Hello again, isn’t NIH explicitly urging new investigators to go for R01s. Why does this continue to happen? I’m thinking that I should respond with a link to the new […]

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