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NIH Office of the Director (OD)

For Immediate Release
Friday, October 31, 2008

News Media Branch

New NIH Policy Establishes Goals to Support Scientists Early in Their Careers

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced today a new policy establishing goals to encourage funding for scientists new to NIH and those who are at an early stage in their careers. The involvement of new investigators is considered essential to the vitality of health-related research and has been the focus of several critically important NIH initiatives. NIH is hopeful that this new policy will nurture a new cadre of promising scientists and provide the continued expertise needed to foster the next generation of biomedical research. NIH expects this new policy will level the playing field, allowing new investigators to achieve success rates comparable to those of established scientists submitting new grant applications. Achievement of a comparable success rate should permit the NIH to support 1650 or more New Investigators across all Institutes and Centers in FY 2009, a number equivalent to that achieved in FY 2008.

"Exceptional scientists with new ideas are at the core of our success — we must invest in the future of our new scientists today if we expect to meet the nation's health challenges of tomorrow," said NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.

As a first step, NIH created a new ‘Early Stage Investigator’ category designed to accelerate the early transition of new scientists to research independence (announced Sept. 26 in NIH Guide Notice NOT-OD-08-121 http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-08-121.html). An Early Stage Investigator is defined as a New or First-time investigator who is within 10 years of completing his/her last research degree or is within 10 years of completing medical residency (or the equivalent). Beginning with R01 research grant applications received in February 2009, NIH will identify Early Stage Investigators and take into consideration their career stage at the time of review and award.

Under the policy:

  • New goals will be established to support new investigators at success rates comparable to those of established scientists submitting new applications
  • Early Stage Investigators should comprise a majority of the new investigators supported
  • Where possible, Early Stage Investigator applications will be clustered during review with the expectation that they will be evaluated more effectively when judged against applications from scientists at the same stage of their careers.

NIH strongly encourages Early Stage Investigators seeking NIH funding for the first time to apply for traditional research project (R01) grant awards, instead of applying for small grants (R03) or Exploratory/Developmental Research Awards (R21). R03s and R21s are limited in scope and period of support, and thus may not be the most effective way to launch an independent research career. NIH is responding to concerns that an increasing number of new investigator applicants are applying for these mechanisms, despite the fact that R21 success rates can be lower than R01 success rates, and a smaller proportion of individuals with initial R21 or R03 grant support subsequently apply for and obtain R01-equivalent funding.

The Early Stage Investigator policy stems, in part, from a major initiative underway at NIH to enhance the peer review process with a goal to "fund the best science, by the best scientists, with the least amount of administrative burden." (See Enhancing Peer Review <http://enhancing-peer-review.nih.gov/index.html> at NIH).

This new policy is also a continuation of NIH’s deep and longstanding commitment to new investigators, to ensure the pipeline of promising scientists will be steady and strong in the coming years. NIH established the New Innovator Award (http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/newinnovator/index.asp) in 2007 with the twin goals of stimulating highly innovative research and supporting promising new investigators. NIH launched the Pathway to Independence Award (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/new_investigators/pathway_independence.htm) in January 2006 as an opportunity for promising postdoctoral scientists to receive both mentored and independent research support from the same award.

These two initiatives, coupled with the new policy, are sure to solidify the lasting legacy of the departing NIH Director, Dr. Elias Zerhouni, whose commitment to new investigators was a core of his six-and-a-half year tenure at NIH.

The Office of the Director, the central office at NIH, is responsible for setting policy for NIH, which includes 27 institutes and centers. This involves planning, managing, and coordinating the programs and activities of all NIH components. The Office of the Director also includes program offices which are responsible for stimulating specific areas of research throughout NIH. Additional information is available at http://www.nih.gov/icd/od.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

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