NIH’s Next Generation Researchers Policy Now Posted

By Mike Lauer

Today we posted a policy (NIH Guide Notice NOT-OD-17-101) describing current plans for the Next Generation Researchers Initiative.  Since I first blogged about it in June, NIH leadership have reviewed data (see accompanying blog) and deliberated about how best to proceed.  Our goal is to increase the number of NIH-funded early-stage investigators and assure, as best we can, that funded early-stage investigators have a reasonable chance to secure stable funding during the earliest stages of their independent research careers. This new policy will supersede previous notices on new and early stage investigators (NOT-OD-08-121, NOT-OD-09-013 and NOT-OD-09-134).

The Initiative comes against a backdrop of worsening hyper competition that has led to severe challenges for biomedical scientists early in their career. We understand that these researchers worry  about “desperate pursuit of grants,” reduced time for research, dependence on senior scientists, taking on ambitious avenues, and administrative reporting burdens.

The Next Generation Researchers Initiative represents in part implementation of the Section 2021 of the 21st Century Cures Act. The Act states, “The Director of the National Institutes of Health shall … develop, modify, or prioritize policies, as needed … to promote opportunities for new researchers and earlier research independence, such as policies to increase opportunities for new researchers to receive funding, enhance training and mentorship programs for researchers, and enhance workforce diversity.” The Initiative is also consonant with our responsibility to be proper stewards of public funds in alignment with goals set forth in NIH’s Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2016-2020.

As described in the policy, NIH institutes and centers (ICs) will prioritize meritorious applications that request funding for Early Stage Investigators (ESIs) and for Early Established Investigators (EEIs) who are at risk for losing all NIH funding or who have only one active NIH award. Here are some key definitions:

  • Early Stage Investigator (ESI): A Program Director / Principal Investigator (PD/PI) who has completed their terminal research degree or end of post-graduate clinical training, whichever date is later, within the past 10 years. Furthermore, these applicants would not have competed successfully as a PD/PI previously for a substantial NIH independent research award. A list of NIH grants that a PD/PI can hold and still be considered an ESI can be found at https://grants.nih.gov/policy/early-investigators/list-smaller-grants.htm.
  • Early Established Investigator (EEI): a PD/PI within 10 years of receiving their first substantial, independent competing NIH R01 equivalent research award as an ESI.

As we implement and monitor the Initiative, the NIH Office of the Director and the ICs will, in consultation with a Working Group of the Advisory Committee to the Director, consider evidence-based strategies to identify, grow, and retain ESIs and EEIs. Effective strategies will likely consider factors such as emerging areas of scientific inquiry, needs of the IC portfolios, and projected needs of the scientific workforce.

We have heard many questions about investigators who are new to NIH, but who are at stages in their career that make them ineligible for ESI or EEI status. In keeping with the 21st Century Cures Act’s call for “earlier research independence,” our focus in this Initiative will be to enhance funding opportunities for ESI’s and EEI’s.  We anticipate that individual ICs will seek to fund other more senior investigators who are new to the NIH system through specific programs as well as select pay.

We recommend that you confirm your dates of terminal degree and post-graduate clinical training is correct in eRA Commons. This will help ensure we can apply your eligibility appropriately to receive funding consideration under the policy. On a case by case basis, NIH will consider requests to extend the ESI or EEI period if you experienced a lapse in your research or research training (e.g. medical concerns, disability, family care responsibilities, extended periods of clinical training, natural disasters, or active duty military service).

We invite you to visit the Next Generation Researchers Initiative web page for more information. We appreciate hearing your ongoing feedback as we implement and develop this mission-critical Initiative.