More Early-Stage Investigators Supported in FY 2021

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Last summer, we reported that in fiscal year (FY) 2020 NIH supported 1,412 early-stage investigators (ESIs) as first-time Principal Investigators (PIs) on R01-equivalent awards. This all-time high was seen after several years of steady growth in the number of ESIs supported since implementing NIH’s Next Generation Researchers Initiative (NGRI) five years ago. Today, we take a look specifically at how ESIs and other targeted groups fared last fiscal year. For more historical NGRI-related data as well as how the various career stage groups and applicants/awardees are defined, please refer to our earlier post.

In FY21, NIH supported 1,513 new ESIs as first-time PIs on R01-equivalent awards. This new all-time high level of support for ESIs represents a 7.2% increase over FY 2020. As there were 5,410 total applicants, this represents a funding rate of 28.0%.

When turning to At-Risk Investigators, fewer (2,026) were supported in FY 2021, compared to 2,108 In FY 2020. This group consists of researchers that received a prior substantial NIH award but, as best we can tell, will have no funding the following fiscal year if they are not successful in securing a competing award this year. The funding rate for this group also fell to 25.4%, compared to 27.0% last fiscal year. That said, it is important to note though that there have been more At-Risk applicants and awardees in FY 2021 compared to when we first started following this group in FY 2016.

Table 1: PIs on R01-Equivalent Applications and Awards in FY 2021 by Career Stage

Career Stage PIs on Applications PIs on Awards Percent Change in Awardees from FY 2020 Funding Rate
Early-Stage Investigators 5,410 1,513 7.2 28.0%
New, Not Early Investigators 7,694 1,280 -1.6 16.6%
At-Risk Investigators 7,985 2,026 -3.9 25.4%
Established Investigators 11,010 3,392 1.6 30.8%

The next set of tables are a snapshot of aggregate demographic information voluntarily self-reported by the researchers on their eRA profiles. Sex is reported in Table 2, race in Table 3, and ethnicity in Table 4. Note, to provide uniformity and comparability across the government, we use the White House’s Office of Management and Budget Minimum Standards when collecting race and ethnicity data (see also NOT-OD-15-089 for more on how these racial and ethnic categories are defined). These demographic data are used for statistical purposes only and not linked to consideration of funding of individual grant applications. It is also important to note that applications are received from and awards are issued to institutions, not individual scientists. Institutions designate scientists who serve as principal investigators on applications and awards. Thus, when we say that an application was received from a male researcher, what is meant is that an application was received from an institution who designated a male researcher as principal investigator.

There were more applications received from and awarded to male researchers in FY 2021 than female researchers across all career stages (Table 2). That said, female applicants had slightly higher rates at which applications were discussed in peer review, referred to as the discussion rate, compared to males, across all career stages, except among the established investigator group. Also, female researchers in both the New, Not Early group and the At-Risk group had slightly higher funding rates than males.

Table 2:  FY 2021 Data by Sex for PIs on Type 1 R01-equivalent Applications and Awards

Stage Sex PIs on Applications Median # of Applications per Applicant Discussed PIs on Awards Discussion Rate(%)1 Funding Rate(%)
Early Stage Female 2,412 1 1,492 667 61.9 27.7
Male 2,752 1 1,693 787 61.5 28.6
New, Not Early Female 2,533 1 1,363 457 53.8 18.0
Male 3,832 1 1,968 670 51.4 17.5
At Risk Female 2,542 1 1,563 691 61.5 27.2
Male 5,349 1 3,089 1,313 57.7 24.5
Established Female 3,364 1 2,270 999 67.5 29.7
Male 7,498 1 5,229 2,350 69.7 31.3

1 The Discussion Rate is a person-based metric that is the percent of applicants (actually people designated as PI’s on an application) who had at least one application make it to the discussion stage of peer review.

The discussion rate was lower for Black/African American early stage compared to white and Asian early stage investigators (Table 3). Though the Black/African American group did have higher funding rates for some career stages, the absolute number of Black/African American applicants and awardees remains lower than white and Asian researchers.

Table 3: FY 2021 Data by Race for PIs on Type 1 R01-equivalent Applications and Awards

Stage Race PIs on Applications Median # of Applications per Applicant Discussed PIs on Awards Discussion Rate(%) Funding Rate(%)
Early Stage Asian 1,428 1 886 411 62.0 28.8
Black or African American 190 1 89 44 46.8 23.2
White 3,225 1 2,001 910 62.0 28.2
New, Not Early Asian 1,819 1 932 286 51.2 15.7
Black or African American 254 1 124 47 48.8 18.5
White 3,686 1 1,970 678 53.4 18.4
At Risk Asian 1,963 2 1,158 470 59.0 23.9
Black or African American 140 1 83 33 59.3 23.6
White 5,314 1 3,132 1,375 58.9 25.9
Established Asian 2,855 2 1,946 836 68.2 29.3
Black or African American 199 2 135 68 67.8 34.2
White 7,150 1 4,955 2,247 69.3 31.4

The discussion rate was higher for Non-Hispanic or Latino researchers than their counterparts (Table 4). The funding rate for Hispanic or Latino researchers was higher in the later career stages, than Non-Hispanic or Latino researchers.

Table 4:  FY 2021 Data by Ethnicity for PIs on Type 1 R01-equivalent Applications and Awards

Stage Ethnicity PIs on Applications Median # of Applications per Applicant Discussed PIs on Awards Discussion Rate(%) Funding Rate(%)
Early Stage Hispanic or Latino 292 1 164 76 56.2 26
Not Hispanic or Latino 4,717 1 2,922 1,330 61.9 28.2
New, Not Early Hispanic or Latino 409 1 189 65 46.2 15.9
Not Hispanic or Latino 5,338 1 2,829 951 53 17.8
At Risk Hispanic or Latino 359 1 201 96 56 26.7
Not Hispanic or Latino 6,905 1 4,107 1,769 59.5 25.6
Established Hispanic or Latino 493 1 332 161 67.3 32.7
Not Hispanic or Latino 9,633 1 6,646 2,960 69 30.7

We are pleased to see the large number of ESIs entering the NIH system. It gives us a renewed focus on the future, a sentiment we share with what Acting NIH Director Dr. Lawrence Tabak mentioned at a recent Congressional hearing. Our work is far from over though, and we will continue working with the research community to enhance support for the next generation of biomedical scientists.

3 Comments

    1. R01-equivalent grants are defined as activity codes DP1, DP2, DP5, R01, R37, R56, RF1, RL1, U01 and R35 from select NIGMS and NHGRI program announcements. Not all of these activities may be in use by NIH every year.

  1. The funding rate difference between New investigators and other investigators (ESI, ARI, Established) is really big. The current new investigators are mostly those that have survived the economical recession of 2006-2017. Now the NIH is not having any real help to those investigators that have been productive, graduating students and being funded with other agencies with the hope to get funding eventually from the NIH. More should be done to prevent losing that valuable generation of scientists.