Limited Submission: NIH Director’s Early Independence Awards (DP5 Clinical Trial Optional)


The NIH Director’s Early Independence Award supports exceptional investigators who wish to pursue independent research essentially after completion of their terminal doctoral/research degree or end of post-graduate clinical training, thereby forgoing the traditional post-doctoral training period and accelerating their entry into an independent research career. For the program to support the best possible researchers and research, applications are sought which reflect the full diversity of the research workforce. Individuals from diverse backgrounds and from the full spectrum of eligible institutions in all geographic locations are strongly encouraged to apply to this Funding Opportunity Announcement. In addition, applications in all topics relevant to the broad mission of NIH are welcome, including, but not limited to, topics in the behavioral, social, biomedical, applied, and formal sciences and topics that may involve basic, translational, or clinical research. The NIH Director’s Early Independence Award is a component of the High-Risk, High-Reward Research program of the NIH Common Fund.

Please read the full program announcement before preparing your internal application.

Award Amount

Awards will be for up to $250,000 in direct costs per year, plus applicable Facilities and Administrative (F&A) costs.

The NIH Common Fund intends to commit approximately $4,000,000 to support approximately 10 awards in FY 2020, contingent upon availability of funds and receipt of a sufficient number of meritorious applications. Future year amounts will depend on annual appropriations and satisfactory progress.


Any individual(s) with the skills, knowledge, and resources necessary to carry out the proposed research as the Program Director(s)/Principal Investigator(s) (PD(s)/PI(s)) is invited to work with his/her organization to develop an application for support. Individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups as well as individuals with disabilities are always encouraged to apply for NIH support.

Applications with multiple PDs/PIs will not be accepted. Only single PD/PI applications are allowed. Only the PD/PI may be listed as a Senior/Key Person and provide a Biographical Sketch.

There is no U.S. citizenship requirement for PDs/PIs. For applications submitted on behalf of non-U.S. citizens with temporary U.S. visas, visa status must allow the PD/PI to conduct the proposed research at the applicant institution. The applicant institution is responsible for determining if and documenting that the PD’s/PI’s visa will allow the PD/PI to remain in the U.S. for the duration of the award.

Time window for eligibility: Given the focus on early research independence, the receipt date of the terminal doctoral degree or end of post-graduate clinical training of the PD/PI must be between June 1, 2018 and September 30, 2020. The degree receipt date is that which appears on the official transcript for the degree. The end of post-graduate clinical training includes residency and fellowship periods. At the time of application, the PD/PI must not have served as a post-doctoral fellow following a previous (not the most recent) doctoral degree for more than twelve months.

At the time of award, either 1) the Early Independence investigator must have received a PhD, MD, DO, DC, DDS, DVM, OD, DPM, ScD, EngD, DrPH, DNSc, ND (Doctor of Naturopathy), PharmD, DSW, PsyD, or equivalent doctoral degree from an accredited domestic or foreign institution (it is the responsibility of the sponsoring institution to determine if a foreign doctoral degree is equivalent), or 2) an authorized official of the degree-granting or training institution must certify that all degree requirements have been met and that the receipt date of the degree (as will appear on the transcript) will be before September 30, 2020; in addition, an authorized official of the host institution must certify that the PD/PI will be eligible to conduct independent research at the institution at the time of the project start date.

Level of effort: Individuals must commit at least 9.6 person-months each year (i.e., 80% effort of a 12-month appointment) to the Early Independence Award project in years 1-2 of the project period. In years 3-5, awardees may reduce effort towards the Early Independence Award project but must commit at least 9.6 person-months each year (i.e., 80% effort of a 12-month appointment) to independent research in general.

Research independence at time of application: Individuals are eligible only if they, at the time of application submission, do not have research independence. Lack of research independence is defined functionally rather than by position title. Eligible individuals must have all the following characteristics:

  • The PD/PI’s current research agenda is set through concurrence with mentors.
  • The PD/PI’s research is funded primarily through support to other investigators (mentored fellowships such as NIH F31 or F32 Fellowships or NSF Graduate Research Fellowships do not preclude eligibility).
  • The PD/PI does not have any space assigned directly by the institution for the conduct of his/her research.
  • The PD/PI, according to institutional policy, cannot apply for an NIH R01 grant without special waiver or exemption from the institution.

Though the PD/PI must not be functionally independent at the time of application submission, s/he may become functionally independent prior to time of award and still retain eligibility for the award.

Prospective PDs/PIs should contact appropriate institutional leaders to seek an appointment in an independent research position. Alternatively, institutions may actively recruit eligible junior scientists to apply for support through this program. In either case, the institution is expected to provide substantial support for the junior scientist, as detailed below. To foster independence, PDs/PIs may benefit from being hosted by an institution they have not previously studied or trained at.

Selection Criteria

Significance: Does the project address an important problem or a critical barrier to progress in the field? Is the prior research that serves as the key support for the proposed project rigorous? If the aims of the project are achieved, how will scientific knowledge, technical capability, and/or clinical practice be improved? How will successful completion of the aims change the concepts, methods, technologies, treatments, services, or preventative interventions that drive this field?

Investigator(s): Is the PD’s/PI’s self-appraisal/rationale for early independence convincing? Is the investigator well suited to the project? Has the investigator demonstrated appropriate experience, training, and skills to conduct highly innovative research? Has the investigator demonstrated the leadership, mentorship, and management abilities necessary to successfully conduct completely independent research? Do the letters of reference indicate that the investigator is ready to embark upon an independent research career? Is the Early Independence investigator at a juncture in his/her career at which the Early Independence Award would substantially accelerate establishment of his/her independent research career? Would the Early Independence investigator’s scientific productivity and long-term career benefit from this acceleration?

Innovation: Does the application challenge and seek to shift current research or clinical practice paradigms by utilizing novel theoretical concepts, approaches or methodologies, instrumentation, or interventions? Are the concepts, approaches or methodologies, instrumentation, or interventions novel to one field of research or novel in a broad sense? Is a refinement, improvement, or new application of theoretical concepts, approaches or methodologies, instrumentation, or interventions proposed?

Approach: Are the overall strategy, methodology, and analyses well-reasoned and appropriate to accomplish the specific aims of the project? Have the investigators included plans to address weaknesses in the rigor of prior research that serves as the key support for the proposed project ? Have the investigators presented strategies to ensure a robust and unbiased approach, as appropriate for the work proposed? Are potential problems, alternative strategies, and benchmarks for success presented? If the project is in the early stages of development, will the strategy establish feasibility and will particularly risky aspects be managed? Have the investigators presented adequate plans to address relevant biological variables, such as sex, for studies in vertebrate animals or human subjects?

Is the logic of the approach compelling even though substantial preliminary data are not present? Is the scope of the project appropriate for someone who, though highly qualified, is still establishing an independent research program?

If the project involves human subjects and/or NIH-defined clinical research, are the plans to address 1) the protection of human subjects from research risks, and 2) inclusion (or exclusion) of individuals on the basis of sex/gender, race, and ethnicity, as well as the inclusion or exclusion of individuals of all ages (including children and older adults), justified in terms of the scientific goals and research strategy proposed?

Environment: Will the Early Independence investigator be given appropriate access to facilities and resources (shared or otherwise)? Are the plans for institutional support, equipment, staffing, and other physical resources available to the Early Independence investigator adequate? Will the scientific environment and collaborative arrangements contribute to the probability of success of the Early Independence investigator? Will the project benefit from unique features of the scientific environment, subject populations, or collaborative arrangements? Is there evidence that the Early Independence investigator will have the necessary institutional commitment to conduct full-time, independent research for the duration of this award at the level of effort required? Will the research activities and resources provided to the Early Independence investigator assist in the development and strengthening of his/her development and career? Will the situation of the Early Independence investigator provide sufficient separation from previous mentors to promote true intellectual independence? Are the plans for appointing and integrating the Early Independence investigator into the institutional scientific culture adequate and appropriate? Are the strategies for addressing potential problems adequate? Are plans and criteria to monitor the immediate and long-term success of the Early Independence investigator adequate?

Limitation Details

An Institution may submit 2 proposals.

If you are interested in submitting for this program, you must first submit an internal application to according to the required instructions below.

Internal Applications must include the following:
  • A cover page listing
    • The name of this funding opportunity and title of your proposal
    • Your name, UGA position, home department, email, and UGA contact information
    • Your receipt date of terminal doctoral degree (must be between June 1, 2018 and September 30th, 2020)
    • Research project collaborator names, positions, and institutions (if any)
    • Name, position, affiliation, and email of nominator (below)
  • A letter of support from the nominator (such as UGA department head or research mentor) that confirms the following:
    • that the candidate has the maturity, creativity, and scientific independence to bypass traditional post-doctoral training
    • that the candidate currently does not have research independence (as defined in the Eligibility section above)
    • that the UGA department, school, college, center, or institute (unit) agrees to appoint the candidate in a position in which the candidate will be able to devote at least 9.6 person-months (80% effort) to conducting independent research during the project period, with at least the first two years being devoted entirely to the Early Independence Award project
    • that the unit will provide dedicated laboratory space and equipment for the conduct of the candidate’s research project (NIH reviewers will take into account the institutional commitment when rating applications)
  • A (maximum two-page) research proposal summary that includes the project title, overall goal, and methodology
  • A statement (one paragraph) by the candidate that explains why they should be one of UGA’s two nominees (i.e. why you feel you are the most competitive for this program).
  • Candidate’s Curriculum vitae
Internal Selection

Limited Submission announcements often generate multiple competing proposals.  UGA reviewers judge proposals as they would in any peer review process, so PIs are urged to put their best foot forward.  Along with typical criteria, reviewers will evaluate internal proposals based on their fit with the sponsor’s articulated goals and criteria.

Internal Submission Instructions

The above internal application materials should be submitted via email as a single .PDF file to by the internal deadline listed above.


Please submit questions regarding the internal competition to

For questions directly related to this program, please contact the following program officer:

Becky Miller, Ph.D.
Office of the Director
Telephone: 301-594-9979

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