NIH Multiple Principal Investigator Option

Description:  The multiple-Program Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI) option presents an opportunity for investigators seeking support for projects or activities that require a team science approach. This option is targeted specifically to those projects that do not fit the single-PD/PI model and is intended to supplement and not replace the traditional single PD/PI model.  The multiple PD/PI policy allows investigators to choose either a single or multiple PD/PI approach for virtually all NIH programs. Key features and aspects of the policy include: multiple PD/PIs share responsibility and authority for the project; all PD/PIs will be listed in the summary statement, Notice of Award, and listed in CRISP.  All PD/PIs have access to status information through eRA Commons. The first PD/PI listed must be affiliated with the applicant institution and will serve as the contact for NIH.  More information about the multiple PD/PI model can be found here: .

Implementation of the Multiple Principal Investigator Policy:  The NIH adopted a multiple-PD/PI model in November 2006, in response to recommendations from the NIH 2003 Bioengineering Consortium (BECON), an NIH Roadmap Initiative to stimulate interdisciplinary science in 2004, and a directive from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in 2007.  Grant applications that accommodate more than one PI include:  R01, R03, R13/U13, R15, R18/U18, R21, R21/R33, R25, R33, R34, R41, R42, R43, and R44,(see Some types of applications including individual career awards (K08, K23, etc.), individual fellowships (F31, F32, etc.), Dissertation Grants (R36), Director’s Pioneer Awards (DP1), Construction Grants (C06/UC6), Grants for Repair, Renovation and Modernization of Existing Research Facilities (G20) and Shared Instrumentation Grants (S10) do not accommodate more than a single PI.  The restriction to a single PI will be described in announcements for those programs.

Decision to Use the Multiple PI Option: The decision to apply for a single PD/PI or multiple PD/PI grant is the responsibility of the investigators and the applicant organization and should be determined by the scientific goals of the project. It is important to note that NIH expects the availability of the Multiple PI option to encourage interdisciplinary and other team science approaches to biomedical research. When considering multiple PD/PIs, please be aware that the organizational structure and governance of the PD/PI leadership team as well as the knowledge, skills and experience of the individual PD/PIs will be factored into the assessment of the overall scientific merit of the application.

Multiple PD/PI Leadership Plan: Multiple PDs/PIs on a project share the authority and responsibility for leading and directing the project, intellectually and logistically. For applications designating multiple PD/PIs, a new section of the research plan, entitled "Multiple PD/PI Leadership Plan" must be included. A rationale for choosing a multiple PD/PI approach should be described. The governance and organizational structure of the leadership team and the research project should be described, including communication plans, process for making decisions on scientific direction, and procedures for resolving conflicts. The roles and administrative, technical, and scientific responsibilities for the project or program should be delineated for the PD/PIs and other collaborators. If budget allocation is planned, the distribution of resources to specific components of the project or the individual PD/PIs must be delineated in the Leadership Plan. In the event of an award, the requested allocation may be reflected in a footnote on the NGA.

Findings from the NIH Multiple PI Pilot (caution should be exercised in the option to use multiple PIs): NIH and the reviewers emphasize that the choice of the model should be driven by the nature of the science. The Leadership Plan should include a rationale for the choice of the multiple PI approach in addition to a description of the governance and organization of the team of scientists. Investigators should be included because the nature of the scientific question makes it necessary to bring the team together and the Plan should describe how each member functions on the project to achieve the scientific goals. Because the foundation for the multiple PI option is a shared responsibility and accountability for the project, the assumption underlining the approach is a collaboration of equals. This assumption is reinforced by the relationship between this policy and the New Investigator policy. The New Investigator provisions will apply to multiple PI awards only when all PIs involved in the project can be classified as "new."

During the Pilot, peer reviewers expressed the following reservations about applications that included teams of scientists:

  • In some cases, applications described projects that included PIs that did not have an identified function within the leadership team based on their expertise and the nature of the project.
  • In some cases applications identified PIs who seemed too junior to function in a leadership role and in other cases it appeared that senior PIs were included in what might be a considered a "courtesy role".
  • In other cases, it appeared that the leadership team had been expanded only to justify additional salary support for involved personnel. 

In each of these cases, reviewers felt that the multiple PI approach detracted from the perceived merit of the application.