Skip to main content
NIH Director's Pioneer Award logo.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Expand All to search page using Ctrl+F |
General Information

1. What is the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award?

The NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, established in 2004, is part of the High-Risk, High-Reward Research program overseen by the Common Fund. The NIH Director's Pioneer Award supports individual scientists of exceptional creativity proposing innovative, high-impact approaches to major challenges in any area of science relevant to the broad mission of NIH. These topics may include, but are not limited to the behavioral, social, biomedical, applied, and formal sciences and topics that may involve basic, translational, or clinical research. Individuals from diverse backgrounds and from the full spectrum of eligible institutions in all geographic locations are strongly encouraged to apply.
 

2. What distinguishes this award from traditional NIH grants?

The NIH Director's Pioneer Award is different in several ways. It is designed to support a small number of investigators of exceptional creativity who propose bold and highly innovative research approaches with the potential for high impact on significant problems in any area relevant to NIH. The actual project description in the application is highly abbreviated to focus on innovation and potential impact rather than preliminary data and experimental details. The procedure for evaluating applicants is distinct from the traditional NIH peer review process and emphasizes the individual’s potential to make seminal contributions toward solving significant research problems; the innovativeness, significance, and potential impact of the project; and whether it represents a significant departure from the applicant’s ongoing research.
 

3. Is the NIH Director's Pioneer Award the only NIH program that uses the DP1 mechanism?

Due to the success of the NIH Director's Pioneer Award, other NIH institutes and centers have developed their own programs for supporting individual scientists who propose pioneering and transformational studies that utilize the DP1 mechanism. Examples include the NIDA Avant-Garde Award, NIDA Avenir Award (for Early Stage Investigators), and the NIDDK Catalyst Award (for Early Stage Investigators). These programs are not affiliated with the NIH Director's Pioneer Award and are not part of the Common Fund's High-Risk, High-Reward Research program.
 

4. What does it mean that an investigator should pursue a "new research direction?"

A new research direction is one that is distinct from any research currently or previously conducted by the applicant or by other investigators. Successful NIH Director's Pioneer Award applicants are expected to propose highly innovative, and hence inherently risky, approaches to address or solve exceptionally important problems of relevance to NIH. While a new research direction may have as its foundation the applicant's prior work and expertise, it cannot simply be an obvious extension or scaling up of a research enterprise. Rather, a new research direction must reflect a fundamental new insight into the solution of a problem, which may derive from the development of exceptionally innovative approaches and/or from the posing of radically unconventional hypotheses.
 

5. How does the NIH Director's Pioneer Award differ from other awards in the High-Risk, High-Reward Research program?

A comparison of all four NIH Director's awards is available online. You can also learn more about each award in our interactive slide show.
 

6. How many awards will be made?

The NIH expects to make approximately seven awards, depending on the merit of applications and the availability of funds.
 

7. Are women and members of underrepresented minority groups encouraged to apply?

The NIH strongly encourages women and members of groups that are underrepresented in the research workforce to apply.
 

8. I don't see my area of research supported previously by the Pioneer Award program. Does this mean that it is not of interest to NIH?

Not at all. The Pioneer Award program makes only a few awards each year. The breadth of NIH’s interest is not fully represented in current or previous awards. Just because your particular area is not yet represented doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t apply. Indeed, broadening the scientific areas supported by the Pioneer Awards is a programmatic priority.
 

9. My institution is not research intensive. Will this be an issue?

NIH recognizes that outstanding researchers are at a great variety of institutions. NIH seeks to support the best possible research across the nation and so strongly encourages applications from the full spectrum of eligible institutions. What is necessary for the Pioneer Award program is a track record of the individual thinking outside the box and an idea that is unusually innovative and impactful that also represents a change in research direction.
 

10. Will another funding opportunity be available next year?

Yes, barring any unforeseen circumstances, we anticipate releasing a funding opportunity for the next fiscal year. To receive funding announcements and other High-Risk, High-Reward Research program news, register for our LISTSERV or watch for the announcement on the website.
 

11. Can someone at NIH review my idea and let me know if it is a good fit for the NIH Director's Pioneer Award?

NIH staff cannot provide comments on specific ideas or plans for individual research grant applications. The external review will evaluate the merit of your application. However, questions about the scope and intent of the NIH Director's Pioneer Award should be directed to Dr. Trish Labosky in the NIH Office of the Director at PioneerAwards@mail.nih.gov. For applications involving clinical research, applicants should contact program staff at the appropriate NIH Institute or Center (IC) to assure compliance with IC-specific policies regarding clinical research.
 

12. What is the competition timeline?

Funding Year2025
Letter of Intent Due DateNot applicable
Earliest Submission DateAugust 8, 2023
Application Due DateSeptember 8, 2023
Scientific Merit ReviewMarch 2024
Council of Councils ReviewMay 2024
Award NotificationsAugust 2024
Earliest Project Start DateSeptember 2024


 

13. Have evaluations of the Pioneer Award program been conducted?

Yes. Independent evaluations are posted on our website.
 

14. What is the success rate for the Pioneer Award?

The success rate of Pioneer Award applications for fiscal years 2018-2022 is 4.5%.

Eligibility Requirements

1. Are individuals at all stages of their careers eligible?

Yes, individuals at all career stages are eligible to apply.
 

2. Are foreign scientists eligible?

Yes, non-U.S. citizens may apply. There are no citizenship or residency requirements, but PIs must hold an independent position at a U.S. institution that is eligible to apply. Non-domestic (non-U.S.) entities (Foreign Organizations) are not eligible to apply.
 

3. Are foreign institutions eligible to apply?

No, foreign institutions are not eligible. Only institutions in the United States or its territories can apply. For the types of eligible domestic institutions, see the funding opportunity.
 

4. Are individuals employed by government agencies, non-academic, and/or for-profit organizations eligible?

Yes, individuals from U.S. organizations that can otherwise apply for NIH funding are eligible to apply with the exception of the NIH Intramural Research Program.
 

5. Are scientists in the NIH Intramural Research Program (IRP) eligible?

No, NIH intramural scientists are not eligible to apply.
 

6. Are investigators with other sources of support eligible?

Individuals who have other support are eligible and may continue as principal investigator on other grants. However, awardees are expected to devote the major portion (at least 51%) of their research time/effort to activities supported by the NIH Director's Pioneer Award in the first three years of the award (see Q&A 9 below). Since the NIH Director's Pioneer Awards are expected to support distinctly new research, awards will not be made to enable investigators to expand research projects that are ongoing.
 

7. Are postdoctoral fellows eligible?

While there are no career stage eligibility criteria, applicants must be able to show concrete evidence for their claim of innovativeness. This could be very difficult for a postdoctoral fellow who has never conducted independent research. In addition, like all NIH grants, the NIH Director's Pioneer Awards are made to institutions on behalf of investigators. Because most institutions will only authorize grant applications from individuals who are independent investigators, this could present an administrative barrier to applying. Outstanding, highly innovative early stage and junior investigators may want to consider applying for the NIH Director's New Innovator Award or NIH Director's Early Independence Award, as appropriate.
 

8. Is there a limit to the number of applications an institution can submit?

No, there is no limit to the number of applications that an institution can submit. However, an investigator may serve as the PI on only one application in response to the RFA.
 

9. How much time/effort must be devoted to the NIH Director's Pioneer Award project?

Awardees are expected to commit the major portion (more than 6 calendar months or at least 51%) of their research time/effort to activities supported by the NIH Director's Pioneer Award in the first three years of the project. A minimum of 4 person-months (33%) of research effort is required in year 4, and 3 person-months (25%) effort in year 5. Calendar months are used to comply with NIH reporting policy; however, this does not include efforts toward teaching, clinical, and/or administrative duties. See question 10 below. Investigators should not apply if they are unable to commit the major portion of their research effort to the NIH Director's Pioneer Award project. The reduction in effort in years 4 and 5 facilitates the awardees to transition to other sources of support since the Pioneer Award cannot be renewed.
 

10. Does the level of time/effort needed to support the NIH Director's Pioneer Award project include time needed for teaching, administrative, and/or clinical duties?

No, level of effort only applies to your total research time/effort. If you spend 50% of your time doing research and the remaining 50% teaching, you would be required to devote at least 51% of your research time only (which is 26% of your total time).
 

11. May two or more scientists apply as a team for the NIH Director's Pioneer Award?

No, only a single investigator is allowed on the application (multiple Principal Director/Principal Investigators are not accepted). However, collaborations and consultants are allowed and may be funded on the NIH Director's Pioneer Award. Such collaborations can be described in the Research Strategy essay.
 

12. May I include collaborators and/or consultants on my NIH Director's Pioneer Award?

Yes, you may include collaborators and/or consultants on your project. Collaborations can be described in the Research Strategy essay, but collaborators may not be listed as Senior/Key Personnel, their Biographical Sketches cannot be included, and Letters of Support are not allowed. Collaborators also should be listed in the PHS Assignment Request Form in the application.
 

13. What scientific areas are eligible to apply for the NIH Director's Pioneer Award?

The NIH encourages applications from scientists from all disciplines, including the biological, behavioral, clinical, social, physical, chemical, computational, engineering, and mathematical sciences, who provide evidence of interest in exploring topics of relevance to the NIH mission. Since only a very limited number of Pioneer Awards are made each year, the full spectrum of areas of interest to NIH is not represented in current or past awards.
 

14. Will technology development be allowed or just hypothesis-driven research?

Applications proposing hypothesis-driven research and those proposing the development of new tools and technologies are both encouraged as long as it is relevant to the NIH mission. The focus is on impact and innovation.
 

15. Can I work with a collaborator in a foreign country, and would I be able conduct research there?

The PI of an award must be employed by a U.S. institution, and the performance site must be at that institution. However, there may be circumstances, such as studies involving a foreign population or a collaborative research project, in which the PI must conduct part of the research outside the United States. This research is allowable. However, the length of any single foreign research stay should not exceed the time allowable under NIH Grants Policy for a Principal Investigator to be away from his/her laboratory without appointing a temporary Principal Investigator (i.e., three months). Due to the special nature of the NIH Director's Pioneer Award, appointment of a temporary PI is not allowable.
 

16. Is research conducted in a foreign country allowed?

The PI must be employed by a U.S. institution and the performance site must be at that institution. However, there may be circumstances, such as epidemiologic studies in other countries, in which the PI must conduct part of the research outside the United States. This research is allowable. However, the length of any single foreign research stay should not exceed the time allowable under NIH Grants Policy for a PI to be away from his/her laboratory without appointing a temporary PI (i.e., three months). Due to the special nature of the NIH Director's Pioneer Award, appointment of a temporary PI is not allowable.
 

17. If I am not successful this year, may I reapply next year?

Yes, as long as you meet the eligibility criteria listed in the funding opportunity. Note: All NIH Director's Pioneer Award applications must be submitted as “new” applications, regardless of any previous submission to the program. The application cannot contain references to any previous submissions.
 

18. Is the award transferable if I change institutions?

Yes, the award may be transferred to another eligible institution, according to the same policies and procedures used for traditional research grants. However, awards may not be transferred to foreign institutions.
 

19. I anticipate switching institutions. Should I apply from my current institution or my future institution?

Since applications are submitted by an institution on behalf of the PI, the application must be submitted by the institution where you will hold an independent position and conduct the proposed research. Applications may be submitted in advance of the actual appointment date. You should consult the sponsored research office at your host institution about this.
 

20. Can I submit an application that has overlapping aims with an application currently under review?

While you may apply to other funding opportunities while your NIH Director’s Pioneer Award application is pending, NIH policy prohibits multiple submissions of the same, or essentially the same, project at the same time. You may either submit applications for different projects concurrently or submit the same project again after receiving the summary statement from the first submission.
 

21. Can I resubmit an earlier, unsuccessful NIH Director's Pioneer Award application?

Resubmissions (A1) are not allowed to the NIH Director's Pioneer Award. However, you may submit a previously unfunded NIH Director's Pioneer Award application as a "new" application. While it is recommended you address reviewer comments and concerns in your new application, do not reference previous applications or reviews in your new submission. Any reference to previous applications or reviews may result in your application being withdrawn.
 

22. Can I submit an earlier, unsuccessful application from another funding opportunity?

Resubmissions (A1) are not allowed to the NIH Director's Pioneer Award. However, you may submit a previously unfunded application from another funding opportunity as a "new" NIH Director's Pioneer Award application as long as the previous study section review is complete and the summary statement has been released. NIH policy no longer limits the number of times you can submit an application with essentially the same content and scope as an earlier application. However, projects that are appropriate for more traditional grant mechanisms are likely inappropriate for the NIH Director's Pioneer Award. NIH Director's Pioneer Awards are meant to support investigators with paradigm shifting projects substantially different from those already being pursued in the investigator’s lab, and investigators must justify how the proposal is more suitable for the NIH Director's Pioneer Award rather than standard grant mechanisms.

Application & Submission

1. What are the important dates for applications?

Applications may be submitted to Grants.gov beginning August 8, 2023 and must be successfully received by Grants.gov no later than 5:00 p.m. local time (of the investigator’s institution/organization) on September 8, 2023. Letters of reference must be submitted by 5:00 p.m. (local time of the referee) on September 8, 2023.<
 

2. Will late applications be accepted?

Late applications will not be accepted. Applicants are encouraged to apply early to allow adequate time to make any corrections to errors found in the application during the submission process by the due date.
 

3. Can I receive a submission extension if serving as an NIH peer reviewer or in an NIH Advisory Group?

No extensions will be given due to peer review service, and late applications will not be accepted. Applicants are encouraged to apply early to allow adequate time to make any corrections to errors found in the application during the submission process by the due date.
 

4. Is a letter of intent (LOI) required to apply for this award?

No, letters of intent are not required or accepted.
 

5. What must be done before I submit an application to Grants.gov?

It is important that you check with your sponsored research office to determine whether your institution is registered with Grants.gov. Please note that the registration process could take up to six weeks. The institution’s Authorized Organizational Representative (AOR) is responsible for completing registration. If your institution is not registered, it must first register with the System for Award Management and then with Grants.gov. Both the institution and the investigator must also complete a one-time registration in the NIH eRA Commons in order to submit applications to NIH. Institutional officials are responsible for registering investigators in eRA Commons. You should work with your AOR (also known as Signing Official in the eRA Commons) to determine your own institution’s process for registration.
 

6. Where can I find help registering for Grants.gov?

For help with Grants.gov, contact Grants.gov customer support at 1-800-518-4726 (Toll Free) or at support@grants.gov.
 

7. Where can I find help in submitting my application to Grants.gov?

For help submitting to Grants.gov, check out the resources available at Grants.gov. If you need assistance, contact Grants.gov customer support at 1-800-518-4726 (Toll Free) or at support@grants.gov.
 

8. Where can I find help in registering for the eRA Commons?

For questions regarding the eRA Commons registration process, contact the eRA Service Desk at 1-866-504-9552 (Toll Free) or 301-402-7469 from Monday–Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Eastern Time).
 

9. How should documents be formatted?

All documents must be in PDF format and cannot exceed page limits (if documents exceed page limits, the application will be considered non-responsive and will not be evaluated). Specific formatting instructions for each document are in the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide.
 

10. What is the purpose of designating two Areas of Science?

The Area of Science designations are to assist in assigning applications to reviewers. To select the most appropriate science area codes for your application, you should consider whether reviewers who are knowledgeable in one or another Area of Science would be most likely to appreciate the significance of the project, the innovativeness of its approaches, and its potential impact.
 

11. Where do I designate the Areas of Science for my application?

Two Areas of Science should be designated on the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide Agency Routing Identifier Field (Field 4b). The Areas of Science (one-digit code and abbreviation) must also be included at the top of the Essay.
 

12. What are the Areas of Science?

Code & AbbreviationScience Area
1 BBSBehavioral and Social Science
2 CBChemical Biology
3 CTRClinical and Translational Research
4 IDIInfectious Diseases and Immunology
5 IEInstrumentation and Engineering
6 MCBMolecular and Cellular Biology
7 NSNeuroscience
8 HIBHigh-Throughput and Integrative Biology
9 BCBBioinformatics and Computational Biology

13. May I designate more than two Areas of Science?

No, only two areas may be designated. One of these would be the primary area and the other would be the secondary.
 

14. Can someone at the NIH help me select my Areas of Science?

NIH staff cannot advise you on the specific selection of Areas of Science for your project. We understand that for interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research projects, more than two Areas of Science might be appropriate. To select the most appropriate Areas of Science for your proposed research, you should consider whether reviewers with expertise in one or another Area of Science would be most likely to appreciate the significance of the project, the innovativeness of its approaches, and its potential impact. The designation of scientific areas by applicants is used solely to aid in selection of the most appropriate group of peer reviewers. All nine scientific areas are considered as a single competition, are reviewed in the same time period, and compete for a single source of funds.
 

15. Are detailed budgets required?

No, budgets are not required or accepted. Indirect costs will be determined at the time of award.
 

16. Does the 5-page essay replace the traditional “Research Plan?"

The 5-page essay replaces the traditional “Research Plan” section required for most other NIH grant applications. The requirements for an NIH Director's Pioneer Award application are different from other NIH grants. Carefully read the application instructions and review criteria in the funding opportunity.
 

17. Are citations and references allowed?

Yes, you may include citations and references in the essay as long as they fit within the 5-page limit. The citations and references may be in any format. A separate "Bibliography & References Cited" page is not allowed.
 

18. Are figures and illustrations allowed in the essay?

Yes, you may include figures and illustrations in the essay, as long as they fit within the 5-page limit.
 

19. May I include movies, either as a link to a website or as a CD, with my application?

No, applications must be self-contained within the specified page limits. Internet website addresses (URLs) may not be used to provide information necessary to the review. However, applicants can list published articles that include links to movies as citations in the essay. We cannot guarantee that reviewers will refer to citations, so any information critical to the evaluation of the research proposal should be included in the essay.
 

20. Where should the effort commitment statement be provided?

The statement should be placed in the Research Strategy essay.
 

21. May I include additional information in an appendix?

All information submitted for the review of your application must be included in the allowed sections of the application, within the specified limits of space. Only limited Appendix materials are allowed. Follow all instructions for the Appendix as described in the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide.
 

22. May I submit new data after submitting my application?

No, we cannot accept any additional data after an application has been submitted other than for unforeseen events, such as natural disasters, that substantially affect the ability to conduct the proposed research. See the funding opportunity for more information.
 

23. What documents are needed for the application?

All documents and instructions in the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide must be followed along with additional instructions listed in the funding opportunity, which supersede SF424 (R&R) Application Guide instructions. Note: All documents must be in PDF format and must comply with prescribed page limits. No additional documents should be uploaded to the application, and applications containing additional materials may not be reviewed.
 

24. Can I revise and resubmit if my application is not funded?

Resubmission applications (A1) are not allowed. You may submit substantially the same idea or a refinement of the idea as a "new" application in response to a subsequent NIH Director's Pioneer Award funding opportunity. Or you may be able to incorporate some elements of your proposal into a conventional R01 or R21 application. Do not reference previous applications or reviews in your new submission. Any reference to previous applications or reviews may result in your application being administratively withdrawn.
 

25. Does my application require a Data Management and Sharing (DMS) Plan?

Yes. All applicants planning research (funded or conducted in whole or in part by NIH) that results in the generation of scientific data are required to comply with the instructions for the Data Management and Sharing (DMS) Plan. See Notice OD-22-198, DMS website, and DMS FAQ page for more information.
 

26. My application should not result in a large amount of data. Do I still need a Data Management and Sharing Plan?

Yes. All applicants planning research (funded or conducted in whole or in part by NIH) that results in the generation of scientific data are required to comply with the instructions for the Data Management and Sharing (DMS) Plan. See Notice OD-22-198, DMS website, and DMS FAQ page for more information.
 

27. I have a Genomic Data Sharing (GDS) Plan for my application. Can that substitute for a Data Management and Sharing (DMS) Plan?

No. For proposed studies of human genomic data subject to the GDS Policy, applicants should complete the DMS Plan anticipating sharing according to the criteria in the Institutional Certification.
 

28. Can I see a Sample Data Management and Sharing Plan?

Yes. There are sample plans available on the DMS website.
 

29. How do I submit the Data Management and Sharing (DMS) Plan?

DMS Plans should be included within the “Other Plan(s)” field on the PHS 398 Research Plan Form as indicated in the Application Instructions. See the DMS website for more details on developing and formatting Plans.
 

30. Can I ask for additional funds for Data Sharing and Management?

No. The budget for the Pioneer Award should be flexible enough to manage data sharing. No additional funds should be added.
 

Budget

1. How is the budget request for this award mechanism different from other NIH grants?

Most other NIH grants require you to request an annual budget in either a modular or detailed format. For the NIH Director's Pioneer Award application, you are asked to request only the total direct cost five-year budget. We do not require, and will not accept, budgetary details.
 

2. How much can be requested?

In the funding opportunity, applicants are instructed to enter $3,500,000, which is the direct cost total for the five-year project period. Awards are made in annual increments of $700,000 direct costs. The scope of the proposed project should be commensurate with this budget. Applicable indirect (Facilities and Administrative (F&A)) costs will be determined at the time of award and will be in addition to the direct costs.
 

3. How do I put together a budget request?

Funds may be requested for personnel (including co-investigators, collaborators, and consultants), supplies, equipment, subcontracts, and other allowable costs. A detailed budget is not required and should not be submitted.
 

4. Can the project be for less than five years?

In the funding opportunity, applicants are instructed to request a project period of five years. The scope of the project proposed should be commensurate with this project period.
 

5. Are indirect costs provided in the award?

Yes, in addition to the direct costs, applicable facilities and administrative costs (indirect costs) will be allowed and will be determined at the time of award based on the institution’s negotiated rate.
 

6. May a collaborator be funded on the award?

Yes, collaborators and consultants may be funded on the award, either directly or by a subcontract. If you want to discuss the role of collaborators, consultants, and/or your access to resources, you may do so in the Research Strategy essay. The application does not have a place to list key personnel other than the PI. Letters of Support and biographical sketches from collaborators will not be accepted. Names and affiliations of collaborators should be listed in the PHS Assignment Request Form in the application.
 

7. Can I ask for additional funds for Data Sharing and Management?

No. The budget for the Pioneer Award should be flexible enough to manage data sharing. No additional funds should be added.
 

Letters of Reference

1. Are letters of reference required?

Yes, all applicants must arrange to have three (and no more than three) letters of reference submitted on their behalf. Please see the detailed instructions in the funding opportunity and on the NIH Director's Pioneer Award website.
 

2. What is the difference between a letter of reference and a letter of support?

Letters of reference are typically from scientists or other people who can speak to the PI’s qualifications and track record for pursuing pioneering research. Letters of support, which are not allowed for this funding opportunity, are typically from outside individuals or organizations whose cooperation, assistance, or guidance is needed for the applicant to successfully complete the project. The letter of support affirms the person's or entity’s commitment of promised assistance to the project.
 

3. Can I include “Letters of Support/Collaboration” for my research?

Letters of Support/Collaboration will not be accepted. Collaborations can be discussed in the Research Strategy essay. Names and affiliations of collaborators should be listed in the PHS Assignment Request Form in the application.
 

4. From whom should I request letters of reference?

It may be most useful to reviewers if letters are from scientists who can address your ability to formulate a compelling scientific vision, your record of overcoming daunting conceptual and experimental hurdles, and your capacity to successfully challenge scientific dogma. It may not be best to choose referees based primarily on their official position, such as your departmental chair or institutional dean.
 

5. May I ask more than three individuals to submit letters for my application?

You should not request letters from more than three referees as only three letters will be accepted.
 

6. May a single letter of reference come from more than one individual?

No, each letter must be from only one referee.
 

7. How do my referees submit their letters in support of my application?

Letters of reference are submitted to the NIH eRA Commons. Letters must be submitted by the application due date no later than 5:00 p.m. (local time of the referee). See the Letters of Reference help page for more information.
 

8. Will I be notified when letters are submitted?

Yes, applicants will receive an e-mail confirmation for each letter. The confirmation will contain the name of the referee and the date and time the letter was submitted. Applicants are responsible for contacting their referees to ensure that the letters are submitted prior to the deadline. Applications with fewer than three letters may be considered non-responsive and may not be reviewed.
 

9. How can I check the status of my letters of reference?

The applicant may track the status of reference letters by checking on his or her eRA Commons account.
 

10. What if one of my reference writers cannot submit their letter on time or at all?

Applications with fewer than three letters may be considered non-responsive and may not be reviewed.
 

Review & Selection

1. How will awardees be selected?

Applications that are complete and responsive will be peer reviewed by a multidisciplinary group of external reviewers. In the first stage, “Mail Reviewers” will assess all applications submitted in response to the funding opportunity. In the second stage, a separate panel of 12–15 distinguished scientists with diverse scientific backgrounds will use the first stage assessments to help identify a subset of PIs deemed to be the most outstanding. These PIs will be invited to interview with the panel. For each interviewed PI, the panel members will provide individual scores from which the overall impact score will be calculated. The NIH Council of Councils will conduct the final level of review. The Director of the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives in the Office of the Director, NIH, will make the final funding decisions based the results of initial peer review, the recommendations of the Council level of review, programmatic considerations, availability of funds, and consultations with IC Directors.
 

2. What criteria will be used to evaluate applications?

The review emphasizes the individual’s potential to make seminal contributions toward solving an important research problem relevant to the broad mission of NIH; the innovativeness, significance, and potential impact of the project; and whether it represents a significant departure from the applicant’s ongoing research. Please see the detailed description of review criteria in the funding opportunity.
 

3. Which review criteria will be emphasized?

All standard review criteria will be weighed in determining the final impact score. Particular emphasis will be given to the investigator's track record of creativity and impact, the innovativeness of the research approaches, and the potential of the project, if successful, to have a significant impact on an important research problem relevant to NIH.
 

4. Will the reviewers be experts in the topic of my application?

There is no attempt to closely match the expertise of the reviewers to the topics of the proposals. The reviewers for the NIH Director's Pioneer Award applications have been chosen for their breadth of scientific perspective and will be able to review a broad range of applications but will not necessarily be experts in the topic of your specific proposal. The description of the scientific project in the essay should be written with a level of detail appropriate for reviewers who are broadly knowledgeable but not necessarily experts in the proposed area of research.
 

5. May I suggest specific reviewers for my application?

No, you should not name specific reviewers for your application. Applications will be evaluated for scientific and technical merit by appropriate Scientific Review Groups convened by the Center for Scientific Review.
 

6. What happens at the interview?

The peer review committee will select a subset of applicants it deems to be the most meritorious and invite these applicants for virtual or in-person interviews in Bethesda, MD. Each interview will consist of a 15-minute presentation by the PI followed by a 15-minute discussion with the panel. The interviews will give the peer review committee an opportunity to carefully explore the potential of each candidate and the merit of the proposed research. The results of the interview will be factored into the overall impact score using the standard review criteria.
 

7. Will I receive a summary statement or other comments?

Yes, all applicants will receive summary statements. Applicants not selected for interviews will receive summary statements consisting of the evaluations from the Mail Reviewers. Applicants selected to interview will receive a resume and summary of discussion that captures the essence and outcomes of the interview.
 

8. When will the awardees be announced?

Awardees will be notified in the summer. New awardees are expected to attend the High-Risk, High-Reward Research Symposium to be held the following summer.
 

9. Can the outcome of the review be appealed?

No, there is no appeal process.
 

Award Administration

1. What requirements must I fulfill during the term of the award?

Awardees must commit the minimum required research effort toward the Pioneer Award project (see Q&A 9 under "Eligibility Requirements"). Although there are no stipulations on the research agenda, you will be required to submit a 2-5 page annual report of your activities during the year and are expected to participate in the annual High-Risk, High-Reward Research Symposium in Bethesda, MD. In addition, to help the NIH evaluate this program, you may be contacted periodically for at least five years and asked to report on your latest research efforts.
 

2. How will the award be administered?

Awards will be administered by an NIH Institute/Center best matching the proposal topic. However, Dr. Trish Labosky from the Office of the Director will also serve as a program officer to coordinate administration of all NIH Director's Pioneer Awards.
 

3. Do I need to submit an annual progress report?

Yes, as described in the Notice of Award posted in your NIH Commons account, a progress report is due annually on October 1.
 

4. Should I mention NIH support in journal articles that pertain to research supported with my NIH Director's Pioneer Award?

Yes, please be sure to identify yourself as an NIH Director’s Pioneer Award recipient in journal articles, oral or poster presentations, news releases, interviews with reporters, and other communications related to your research funded by this program. Although citing NIH support is always important, it is even more so in the case of the NIH Director's Pioneer Award, which is a component of the NIH Common Fund. In journal articles, please cite the grant number as well as the name of the program. An example of how this might be worded is, "This work was funded by the National Institutes of Health through the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, DP1-XX######."
 

5. Should I notify the NIH of any note-worthy publications or media coverage of my research?

Yes, please notify us at PioneerAwards@mail.nih.gov of any significant publications or media coverage so we can highlight you and your research on our website.
 

6. Am I required to submit my journal manuscripts to PubMed Central?

As required by Federal legislation, the NIH Public Access Policy requires NIH funded scientists to submit final peer-reviewed journal manuscripts that arise from NIH funds to PubMed Central. Please visit the NIH Public Access site for additional information about the process of submitting your accepted publications.
 

7. Are there annual meetings I am required to attend?

Yes, as an awardee, you are expected to attend the annual High-Risk, High-Reward Research Symposium in the summer in Bethesda, MD.
 

8. Are these awards renewable?

No, these awards are intended to provide funds to initiate important new directions in research over a five-year time frame. It is possible to receive a subsequent Pioneer Award that does not overlap in duration or research direction with a previous award.
 

9. Is it possible to request a no-cost extension at the end of the grant period if there are unexpended funds?

Yes, you may request a no-cost extension for an NIH Director's Pioneer Award.
 

10. Is the award transferable if I change institutions?

Yes, the award may be transferred to another eligible institution according to the same policies and procedures used for traditional research grants. Awards may not be transferred to foreign institutions.
 

11. Can the Pioneer Award be transferred to another Principal Investigator?

Another investigator may assume the responsibilities of PI only to ramp down and close out the award. This would only be in circumstances in which the original PI is no longer able to serve as PI. The ramp down period typically would be approximately three months.
 

This page last reviewed on February 29, 2024