NEI Support for First Time Investigators

The NEI strongly encourages traditional research project grant (R01) applications from first time investigators. Our capacity to advance vision research and to improve the vision health of the American people requires the nurturing, education, training, recruitment, and employment of cadres of new investigators. Therefore, NEI staff is encouraged to identify and give special consideration to first time investigators in making funding recommendations.

The NIH considers you a first time investigator if you have never been a Principal Investigator on a Public Health Service-supported research project other than the following:

F31, F32 Fellowship Awards
K08, K23 Career Development Awards
K99 Pathway to Independence Award Mentored Phase
L30, L40 Loan Repayment Awards
R00 Pathway to Independence Award—Research Phase
R03 Small Grant
R13 Conference Grant
R15 Academic Research Enhancement Awards
R21 Exploratory/Developmental Grant
R34 Clinical Trial Planning Grant
R41 Small Business Technology Transfer Grant Phase I
R43 Small Business Innovation Research Grant Phase I
R55 NIH Director’s Bridge Award
K01, K08, K22, K23, K25.mentored career development awards for persons at the beginning of their research career

NIH policy requires that applicants be evaluated in a manner appropriate for the stage of their careers. Applications from first time Investigators will be clustered during initial peer review to the extent possible. Review guidelines indicate that reviewers should keep in mind the experience of and the resources available to the first time investigator. Specifically, when considering:

Approach: more emphasis should be placed on feasibility than on preliminary results

Investigator: more emphasis should be placed on training and research potential than on track record and number of applications

Environment: more emphasis should be placed on evidence of institutional commitment in terms of space and time to perform the research.

The NIH intends to support first time Investigators at success rates comparable to those for established investigators submitting new applications.

The NIH Office of Extramural Research maintains a website which provides updated information regarding policies, resources, and data related to new investigators, and which offers advice in preparing a first application for NIH support. This is available at

Special Initiatives for New Investigators

  • The NIH Center for Scientific Review has shortened the review cycle for first time investigators who have submitted R01 grant applications. Details regarding this initiative are available at You may contact any member of the NEI Division of Extramural Research staff at 301-451-2020 with questions.
  • The NIH Director’s New Innovator Award Program provides DP2 grant support up to $1.5M direct costs for a five-year period to first time investigators of exceptional creativity who propose highly innovative, high impact research. Additional information is available at
  • NEI participates in the trans-NIH Pathway to Independence (PI) Award (K99/R00). This provides one to two years of mentored postdoctoral research at an extramural institution, followed by up to three years of independent support. See
  • The NIH Common Fund has established the NIH Director’s Early Independence Award to provide a mechanism for exceptional, early career scientists to omit traditional post-doctoral training, and move into temporary, independent academic positions at US institutions directly upon completion of their terminal graduate degree (Ph.D, M.D., or equivalent) or within twelve months of the completion of their medical residence. See

Special Initiatives for Early Stage Investigators (ESI)

The NIH has adopted policies to further encourage the early transition to research independence, see;; and

These initiatives define a sub-category of first time Investigator, the Early Stage Investigator or ESI. An ESI is a New PI within ten years of completing their terminal research degree or within ten years of completing their medical residency. Major aspects of the new policies include:
R01 applications from ESI’s will be identified and their career stage will be considered at the time of review and award. The majority of New Investigators supported by the NIH are expected to be ESIs.

Last Updated: August 2011