How Long is an R01?


It’s definitely good to be back, and returning to data analysis and blogging as usual!

The R01 research project grant is NIH’s mainstay grant mechanism and is used for much of our investigator-initiated research. When talking about about NIH funding, the subject that most often comes up is the R01 and how support for R01s may be changing over time. Recently I received numerous inquiries about whether the duration of the R01 has been shrinking. NIH has limited the duration of all grants to 5 years but I want to assure the community that there is no NIH-wide policy that dictates a project length duration below 5 years, and that our ICs work hard to provide support both in terms of funding levels and the award length that is commensurate with the work proposed in the application. But to help answer the duration question, we looked at the data to find out the facts about trends in R01 project length.

The first graph shows the average R01 project period length each year from 1999 to 2012. You can see that the length of R01s actually has increased slightly over this period and is currently closer to an average of 4.5 years.

We also looked at some historical data on the distribution of project lengths, to see how this has changed over the past decade or so.

Graph showing percent of R01 Project periods 1,2,3,4, or 5 years in length for fiscal years 1999-2012. For the data table corresponding to this graph is on ( For the blog post explaining the data visit: //

The data show that slightly over half of R01 awards are 5 year awards and this has been quite constant since 2005.

It’s important to remember here that these data are for R01 awards only.

One reason for the perception that NIH has been making shorter awards lately may be an increase awards using mechanisms that are of shorter durations (as shown in the NIH data book, for example, there were 1,423 R21 awards made in 2009, and 1,932 R21 awards made in 2012).

So what’s the final word? The most important advice I have is that you should continue to propose a project length that is most suitable for the research you’re planning. Let the science drive the duration.


  1. Is there any association between award duration and the number of submissions required to achieve funding? My last two RO1 awards were made on A2 submissions, and both were for only 4 years of funding even though 5 years was requested and I believe justified by the science. I assumed this might be because they were both A2 submissions. No explanation for the shorter-than-requested duration was provided in the Award Notice. If an administrative decision is made to shorten an award duration because the science is not felt to justify the requested duration, perhaps that information – or other explanation for the 1 year budget cut – could be incorporated in the Award Notice.

    1. NIH institutes adjust amount and duration of funding for many reasons, some scientific, some administrative, some to stretch the available funding to meet their research priorities. Cuts can also be suggested at different stages of the application process (ie., time of scientific review, or time of funding decision). You might find our podcast on this topic helpful. It contains advice on who to go to to understand why a budget was cut, depending on the stage of the application review process (MP3, transcript).

    2. What plan is this person using that allows him to write and A2. My understanding is that applicants are limited to A1.

  2. “most suitable”? so you’ll be taking 10 yr proposals now?


    What would be of greater interest is the proportion of awarded grants that received a reduction in year(s) upon funding. That would probably speak more to the perceptions in the extramural community. While you are at it, you might as well have the data miners round up the success rates by the number of years proposed. I’m certain I am no alone in wanting to see these numbers.

  3. I have always requested 5 years of support and never, ever gotten more than 4, in 20 years of running my own lab. This is from GM, which only seems to give 5 years to new investigators.

  4. It might also be of interest to show that data as a function of institute, i.e. which institute grants the most 5-year awards, and how does that differ from the others.

  5. Most NIH institutes make information on their funding policies available to the public on their websites. If you search for funding policy + your favorite institute you should easily find this information. By doing this search for NIGMS you will find that their policy on duration of R01 grant awards is explicitly stated along with the rationale for this practice. The same is true for most institutes. To obtain more information on how they make decisions about reductions in duration or amount you should talk to your program director.

    1. Indeed, the original blog post seems in conflict with the text from the NIGMS website you cite, which says:

      “Congressional cost management advice has led NIH to set an average research project grant (RPG) length of 4 years. Since NIGMS primarily uses the R01 mechanism for RPGs and rarely participates in short-term mechanisms (such as the R21), it limits most R01 awards to 4 years. NIGMS does award some grants for 5 years, including research program projects and centers. The Institute also funds 5-year R01s to most new and early stage investigators to provide extra time for getting their projects under way.”

      It seems a bit odd that the original blog post neglects to mention this. According to this site, the rumor is not a rumor, it seems to be fact (at least for NIGMS but also NIH-wide unless it is a typo about “NIH … set an average research project grant (RPG) length of 4 years”), contrary to Sally’s comments. Am I missing something?

  6. I believe this may vary by institute, and may be in the process of change. According to, for 2014 and on “The NHLBI will fund investigator-initiated R01 competing applications, regardless of percentile or priority score, for four years or less. The only exceptions to this policy are: awards made to Early Stage Investigators (ESIs), awards for studies with patient accrual and follow-up timelines that cannot be accomplished within four years, [and] awards for AIDS-related research.”

  7. The reality, at least for me, is that across the 4 years of our last study we received only 3 years of actual funding from NIH. The bitter irony is that we were told we would have a better chance of funding at 4 years, not 5; we therefore pushed the activities into 4 years resulting in increased workload in each year. Little did we know, when we started, that we would receive cuts that resulted in getting only 3 years worth of funds relative to what we proposed. What this means is that in the last year of the project, as the cuts have built up over the years, I can receive no pay for my work. I must allocate the meager remaining funds to staff to do the increased work necessary when we were told to go for 4 years to do what was realistically a 5-year study. My colleagues recently had a similar “do it in 4 years and you’ll more likely get funded” discussion with NIH before submitting a proposal; given what they were told was needed in those 4 years to be successful (unrealistic given the $500,000 cap), they decided not to submit. This growing reality is why some of my most valued colleagues are leaving the field of research in search of more stable financial support for their families; many have decided that research is on a trajectory where it will be required that we work harder, longer, faster as scientists but do so for less and less pay. This is the reality; but as my ancestors would say, “what else would you expect?”.

    1. Many of us are finding that we have to “work for free” to have any chance of keeping a program running in the face of unprecedented low paylines and continual deep cuts even to non-competing budgets. The problem is, of course, that what is a sacrifice in the emergency slowly becomes a norm that is deeply demoralizing the extramural community. Talk about dis-incentiving students… “you too can be a successful academic, publish extensively, receive awards, and still lose 25% of your salary!”

    1. R01s are not capped at $500k. We do have a policy that says “For applications requesting $500,000 or more direct costs for any year, applicants must seek agreement to accept assignment from Institute/Center staff at least 6 weeks prior to the anticipated submission of any application. See NIH Guide Notice. This policy does not apply to applications submitted in response to RFAs or in response to other Announcements that include specific budgetary limits.”

      Submission policies such as this may be found on NIH’s due date web page.

  8. There is no doubt that grants from NIDDK are now for 4 years instead of 5 and this cut has been made for budgetary reasons. However, I think it is a huge mistake because it means that people need to write more grants more often rather than getting their research done. On top of my 5 yr grant being funded for only 4, there has been a 20% decrease in funding from $250K to $198K. So, when I write my next grant, the reviewers will question my productivity when there is only enough time and funding for 1 postdoc (plus my salary, mice, and needed services like FACS sorting). The investigators who show the most productivity are the ones who have external sources of funding such as institutional funds (MSKCC, St. Judes, state funding, etc) and funds from foundations (many of which are not open to competition). , HHMI funds,

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