stage indicator - apply for a grant

Information for New Investigators

NIH and NIAID want to fund more new scientists and have created special programs and funding approaches to meet that goal. Learn who qualifies, how being new helps you, how to identify yourself, where to get advice, and how to plan your research career.

Table of Contents

Who Qualifies for New and Early-Stage Investigator Status

NIH has two types of special status for early-career scientists.

New investigator. 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 new 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 circumstance 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. 

For detailed definitions, see NIH’s Early Stage Investigator Policies.

Most NIH Award Types End Your New and ESI Status

Once you apply for and receive certain NIH awards, you no longer qualify as a new investigator or an ESI. See the List of Smaller Grants and Awards you can get and still be considered new or ESI.

If your award type isn't on that list of exceptions, you lose your ESI or new investigator 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 new investigator benefits described below. It qualifies only if all the PIs are new.
  • Once the multiple PI application is funded, you lose your new PI status.

How Being New Helps You

When applying for your first independent NIH research grant, new and early-stage investigators get some breaks.

Higher Paylines

NIH sets target numbers for funding new and early-stage R01 investigators.

  • NIAID uses a higher R01 payline to make it easier for new investigators to get an award.
  • Go to NIAID 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 new R01 investigators to have fewer preliminary data and publications than more established researchers do.

New investigator R01 applications are reviewed on the same timeline as other applications submitted to the same notice of funding opportunity. When feasible, new and early-stage investigator applications are not interspersed with those of established investigators at the review meeting.

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.

Resubmissions (A1) of new investigator R01 applications are accepted on the resubmission program announcement (PA) due date—both standard and special—of any PA that accepts resubmission applications. See the NIH Resubmission Policy for requirements and instructions.

Special Programs

NIAID and NIH help new and early-stage investigators in the following ways as well.

  • Selective pay and R56-Bridge awards
    • New and early-stage investigators who have top-quality R01 applications are strong candidates for these NIAID awards. We use these approaches to fund some applications with percentiles that missed the payline by a small margin.
    • You cannot apply for either program. Your NIAID program officer must nominate you. Your program officer will let you know if this is likely and, in any case, advise you on your next steps.
    • For both programs, we choose applications based on high relevance to our mission as well as scientific merit. Read more in the NIAID R56-Bridge Award SOP.
  • Educational loan repayment programs

Identify Yourself!

Make sure NIH knows you’re new: 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.

Then 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.

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 NIH 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.

Find NIAID contacts and instructions at When To Contact an NIAID Program Officer. 

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.

Plan for Your Career

Craft your career goals before you begin your first NIH grant application.

Consider Your Field

If you are still developing your career, take the time to learn about different fields of interest. Consider more training in a new area if you need more experience.

If you want to change fields, you could work as a postdoc in the new area. Also look into our Career Development Awards (K), which are especially helpful for postdocs. Contact for help.

Test Your Qualifications

Conduct a self-evaluation to see whether you qualify to apply for an independent research grant such as an R01. Follow the analysis steps at Determine Eligibility for NIAID Grants.

Then consider your organization's expectations, for example, the level of position you must have before your institution will allow you to apply for different types of grants.

Your qualifications lay the foundation for your grant-seeking efforts. Your peer reviewers—your application's audience—must deem you qualified to complete the work you propose.

For an R01, you'll need significant experience, a publication record (first or last author) in respected journals, and a history of overseeing projects in your field.

To further assess your qualifications, we suggest these steps:

  • Evaluate your training, publications, and presentations at scientific meetings in the field.
  • Be critical: look at yourself through the eyes of your future reviewers.
  • Ask colleagues or advisors to make the same assessment of you.

Set Your Goal and Start Applying

Focus on a single research goal you'd like to accomplish during the next 10 years or so. Then divide that goal into objectives that can become projects you could achieve in three to five years, the typical length of a grant award.

Even if you're still a postdoctoral research associate, get started. There's no need to wait until you are in an academic job to begin writing your first application. 

Starting now lets you tap the knowledge of mentors who are familiar with your work and in the best position to give you feedback. And the experience of writing an application will increase your chances of future success, even if your first attempt fails.

Getting a head start also helps you avoid running down the start-up support you should negotiate when you get your first academic position.

Be sure to negotiate enough support to tide you over the long application process. After applying, it can take two years to get a grant, even longer if you must start over with a new application.

Don't expect your first application to succeed—most people must resubmit (try again) before they get funded.

After getting your first award, stay ahead using our Approaches for Staying Funded.

More NIAID Information for New Investigators

We offer additional advice and information on other stages of the grant process elsewhere in the Grants & Contracts section of this website. Where appropriate on other webpages, we also include notes that are specific to new investigators.

As examples, see the following:

For additional topics, use the navigation in the Grants & Contracts tab above.

Have Questions?

A program officer in your area of science can give you application advice, NIAID's perspective on your research, and confirmation that NIAID will accept your application.

Find contacts and instructions at When to Contact an NIAID Program Officer.

Content last reviewed on