Letter from Dr. Stephen I. Katz: New Investigator Opportunities

NIAMS - National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
Special Announcement
January 19, 2011
Contact Information

Office of Communications and Public Liaison

Janet S. Austin, Ph.D.

Melanie M. Martinez, M.P.A.
Public Liaison Officer

Letter from Dr. Stephen I. Katz: New Investigator Opportunities

Dear Colleagues:

I'd like to provide you with an overview of efforts at the NIH and the NIAMS to support the next generation of researchers. The NIH's budget challenges in recent years have increased the competition for research funding. This has raised concerns that new, less experienced investigators are at a disadvantage, when compared to more established scientists. Sustaining the productivity of this energetic cohort of new investigators is critical to the future of biomedical and behavioral research, and the NIH is highly committed to creating opportunities for them as they develop their independent research careers. Efforts to support new investigators include identifying them for special consideration during review and funding decisions, and creating distinct funding opportunities for them.

For the purposes of review and funding, new investigators are defined as not having served as principal investigators (PIs) previously on any Public Health Service-supported research project. PIs on certain early-stage, mentored research career development awards (K01, K08, K22, K23, K25, K99), and PIs on small grants (R03), Academic Research Enhancement Awards (R15), and exploratory/developmental grants (R21) are still eligible for new investigator status.

An Early Stage Investigator (ESI) is a new investigator who is within 10 years of completing his/her terminal research degree, or is within 10 years of completing medical residency (or the equivalent), including clinical fellowship training. ESIs are eligible for all new investigator opportunities.

New investigator funding opportunities include:

  • The NIH Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00): for postdoctoral scientists to receive mentored and independent research support from the same award.
  • The NIH Director's New Innovator Award: for new investigators of exceptional creativity who propose highly innovative approaches that have the potential to produce an unusually high impact on significant problems in biomedical and behavioral research.
  • The NIH Director's Early Independence Award: for talented young scientists ready to embark on independent research careers directly after completing their terminal M.D. and Ph.D. degrees, without the need for traditional post-doctoral training.
  • The NIAMS Small Grant Program for New Investigators (R03): for promising new investigators entering research on arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases and injuries, and support of pilot projects that are likely to lead to subsequent research project grants (R01).

Establishment of the Multiple PI policy in 2007 — which provides a mechanism for several investigators to create a team science project, with shared responsibilities — presents additional opportunities for new investigators and ESIs. The more junior scientists with fresh, innovative approaches can collaborate with seasoned, senior researchers in multidisciplinary efforts, and can receive equal recognition for their contributions to the project. In addition, a Multiple PI application will be regarded as a new investigator application if all of the PIs have new investigator/ESI status.

NIH-wide targets for new investigator funding have been set, and achieved, over the past four years, to fund 1,500 to 1,650 new investigators annually, with a goal in recent years that at least 50 percent of that cohort would be ESIs. In one effort to improve the success rates of new investigators, the NIAMS, as well as most NIH Institutes and Centers, created a differential payline for them. The NIAMS has allowed a 3 to 5 percentile advantage for new investigators.

Because the amount of debt that medical students graduate with can discourage even the most talented and inquisitive individuals from pursuing a research career, the NIH developed a loan-repayment program to foster the careers of our future scientific leaders. The NIH Loan Repayment Programs — addressing topics such as clinical, pediatric, and health disparities research — repay up to $35,000 of qualified student loan debt (undergraduate, graduate, medical school) per year, for scientists who commit to at least two years of research funded by a domestic nonprofit, university, or government entity. Of note, NIH received more than 3,200 applications in 2010, and nearly 1,600 scientists received loan repayment contracts.

This is an era of burgeoning possibilities for biomedical and behavioral science, with the confluence of expanding knowledge and technological capabilities. Harnessing these opportunities to benefit public health lies with new investigators who prepare to take the mantle of the future in U.S. biomedical research. To highlight the importance of this issue, the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director is establishing a new working group, to "develop a model for a sustainable and diverse U.S. biomedical research workforce." The model is expected to incorporate assessments of current and future needs of the biomedical research enterprise, and associated sectors (industry, education, science policy, communications); the availability of trainees to support it; and recommendations of actions for the NIH to take supporting the future biomedical research infrastructure.

More information is available on the following Website:

Stephen I. Katz, M.D., Ph.D.
Director National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
National Institutes of Health
Department of Health and Human Services