Helpful Info for Early Career Investigators2018-12-20T18:33:03-05:00

The greatest challenge for any early career investigator revolves around the issue of funding. The NIH is only able to fund a small percentage of the total grant requests submitted and often the less senior researchers are left without funding. There are a variety of funding options available to the research community and we will try and list them here and you can see what is appropriate for your specific circumstances.

Trailblazer R21 Awards

The Trailblazer R21 Award is an opportunity for New and Early Stage Investigators to pursue research programs of high interest to the NIBIB at the interface of the life sciences with engineering and the physical sciences.  The Trailblazer Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) employs an R21 Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant mechanism, enhanced to provide $400,000 in direct costs over three years, allowing sufficient time and resources to pursue a new or emerging research program. A Trailblazer project may be exploratory, developmental, proof of concept, or high risk-high impact, and may be technology design-directed, discovery-driven, or hypothesis-driven.  Importantly, applicants are expected to propose research approaches for which there are minimal or no preliminary data.

Access the Trailblazer announcement here:

To find out if you are eligible, see the NIH definition of New and Early Stage Investigators:

NIH Research Project Grant Program (R01)


The Research Project Grant (R01) is the original and historically oldest grant mechanism used by NIH. The R01 provides support for health-related research and development based on the mission of the NIH. R01s can be investigator-initiated or can solicited via a Request for Applications. This website is devoted to the investigator-initiated R01 application, which means there are no specific program requirements. However, the R01 research plan proposed by the applicant must be related to the stated program interests of one or more of the NIH Institutes and Centers based on their missions.

The Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT) website provides information about research grants including the number of funded new and competing R01s, average award dollars and characteristics of research project grants.

Definition of an R01

The Research Project (R01) grant is an award made to support a discrete, specified, circumscribed project to be performed by the named investigator(s) in an area representing the investigator’s specific interest and competencies, based on the mission of the NIH.

(R03) Small Research Grants

The R03 grant mechanism will support small research projects that can be carried out in a short period of time with limited resources. The NIH has standardized the Small Grant (R03) application characteristics, requirements, preparation, and review procedures in order to accommodate investigator-initiated (unsolicited) applications.

The R03 Parent Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for investigator-initiated R03 applications can be found at PA-16-162 and articulates the policies and procedures that apply to this grant mechanism.

This website describes the use of the investigator-initiated R03 and describes the NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs) that intend to accept such applications.

Application Characteristics
  • You may request a project period of up to two years and a budget for direct costs of up $50,000 per year.
  • The R03 cannot be renewed
  • No preliminary data are required but may be included if available.
  • The Research Strategy may not exceed 6 pages.
  • A doctoral student may not apply for an R03 grant to support thesis or dissertation research. An R03 award may be used to assist students who are pursuing dissertation studies when the work is within the scope of the R03 award.

The common characteristic of the small grant is the provision of limited funding for a short period of time. Examples of the types of projects that ICs support with the R03 include the following:

  • Pilot or feasibility studies
  • Secondary analysis of existing data
  • Small, self-contained research projects
  • Development of research methodology
  • Development of new research technology

Types of Grant Programs

NIH uses activity codes (e.g. R01, R43, etc.) to differentiate the wide variety of research-related programs we support. NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs) Link to External Site may vary in the way they use activity codes; not all ICs accept applications for all types of grant programs or they apply specialized eligibility criteria. Look closely at Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) to determine which ICs participate and the specifics of eligibility. For more information on other available grant options click here.

PCORI Grants

Comparative Clinical Effectiveness Research (CER)

Studies that compare outcomes to determine the effectiveness, including risks and benefits, of two or more approaches to health care

CER Methods and Infrastructure

Studies to improve the methods available for patient-centered CER

Development of a large, highly representative electronic-data infrastructure, called PCORnet, for improving the conduct of patient-centered CER

Conditions Studied

We pay particular attention to:

  • Conditions that affect large numbers of people across a range of populations
  • Conditions that place a heavy burden on individuals, families, specific populations, and society
  • Rare diseases, which are difficult to study

Populations of Interest

We pay particular attention to a number of populations in making research funding decisions:

  • Racial and ethnic minorities
  • Older adults
  • Low-income
  • Residents of rural areas
  • Women
  • Children
  • Individuals with special healthcare needs, including individuals with disabilities, individuals with multiple chronic diseases, individuals with rare diseases, and individuals whose genetic makeup affects their medical outcomes
  • Patients with low health literacy/numeracy and limited English proficiency
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) persons
  • Veterans and members of the armed forces and their families


Private Sector

  • Nonprofit research organizations
  • For-profit research organizations

Public Sector

  • Universities and colleges
  • Hospitals and healthcare systems
  • Laboratories and manufacturers
  • Units of state, local, or federal government

US Organizations

Must be recognized by the Internal Revenue Service

Foreign Organizations and Nondomestic Components of US Organizations

May apply if:

  • There is demonstrable benefit to the US healthcare system
  • US efforts in the area of patient-centered research can be clearly shown


Not permitted to apply

To review PCORI funding opportunities click here.

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