NIH and NINDS want to fund early-career scientists and have special programs and funding approaches to meet that goal. Helping investigators transition to independence is a high priority for NIH and an important funding consideration for NINDS. NINDS will fund additional R01 applications from Early Stage Investigators with scores beyond the percentile payline with the aim of supporting these early career scientists at a success rate equivalent to that of established investigators submitting new R01 applications. Please visit NIH Early Investigator Policies for detailed information.
Who Qualifies for Early-Stage Investigator Status
NIH has two types of special status for early-career scientists.
- New investigator (NI). NIH considers you new if you have not yet competed successfully as a PI to receive substantial independent NIH funding.
- Early-stage investigator (ESI). A subset of new investigator status, you are an ESI if you qualify as an NI and you are also 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 such as childbirth, family care responsibilities, medical concerns, disability, extended periods of clinical training, natural disasters, and active duty military service.
Request an extension to your ESI eligibility period through eRA Commons using the ESI Extension request button located in the Education section of your Personal Profile. See additional ESI extension online help and a video tutorial for further information.
How Early-Stage Investigator Status is Applied in NIH Systems
- Make sure NIH knows you’re an ESI: enter your degree and discipline-specific training dates in your Commons profile.
- Once you've entered your information in the Commons, check your profile to make sure your new or ESI status appears as expected.
- If your status isn't correct, contact the eRA Service Desk to request assistance. Include your Commons login ID, name, any application number, and other relevant dates and information.
Most NIH Award Types End Your ESI Status
- Once you apply for and receive certain NIH awards, you no longer qualify as an ESI. See the List of Smaller Grants and Awards you can get and still be considered ESI.
- If your award type isn't on that list of exceptions, you lose your ESI status when you get the award.
- That said, if your institution assigns you to become a principal investigator (PI) on an existing grant that you did not apply for, you still qualify as new.
Multiple PI applications have consequences worth noting for new PIs:
- If your application includes an established PI, the application will not qualify for any of the ESI benefits described below. It qualifies only if all the PIs are ESI.
- Once the multiple PI application is funded, you lose your ESI status.
How Being an ESI Helps You
When applying for your first independent NIH research grant, early-stage investigators get some breaks.
NIH sets target numbers for funding early-stage R01 investigators.
- NINDS uses an extended R01 payline to make it easier for early-stage investigators to get an award, or put another way, to normalize the success rate of early-stage investigators so they have the same chance of success as established investigators.
- Go to NINDS Paylines for current information.
- Other NIH institutes set special paylines for ESIs as well.
Initial Peer Review
- Peer reviewers look more at your potential than achievement—they weigh your academic and research background heavily. Reviewers may expect ESI 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 and rather reviewed together as a block.
- Summary statements for new investigator R01 applications are prioritized, and when possible, released before summary statements for other applications reviewed in the same meeting. Generally, summary statements will be available no later than 30 days before Council.
Special Funding Opportunities
Some funding opportunities are specifically for NI or ESI investigators, including:
- Pathway to Independence Award (K99-R00)
- The NIH Director’s New Innovator Award (DP2)
- NIH Director’s Early Independence Award (DP5)
Get Advice From Mentors and NIH Staff
As you plan your independent research career, you likely already have mentors at your institution and in your field. NIH staff can also help.
- Contact an NINDS Program Officer appropriate to your field of research. Our Program Officers are trained scientists who can advise you on crafting high-priority research ideas, which opportunity type to choose, nuances of the application process, and much more.
- Consider NINDS Training and Workforce Development funding opportunities if you may not be ready for an independent research award.
- You might also consider participating in the NIH Center for Scientific Review's Early Career Reviewer (ECR) Program to gain first-hand experience with peer review while working with accomplished researchers in your field.