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Principal Investigator Eligibility and Standing

Stewardship of knowledge is a privilege and obligation of faculty at all institutions of higher education. NC State University recognizes that faculty, who both impart knowledge to students and seek new knowledge, are central to its core research mission. The Board of Trustees has established criteria for the appointment of faculty and others to the positions of principal investigator (PI) and co-principal investigator (co-PI). The policy statements below complement the basic principle that PIs and co-PIs are expected to (1) be responsible in the stewardship of public resources, (2) be dedicated to advancing knowledge and (3) maintain the highest standards of conduct in research.

The Board of Trustees, consistent with most institutions of higher education from around the country, has established a POL 10.00.02 that states, in part…

“2. All tenure-track faculty members may submit proposals for support of research and scholarly projects. All proposals must be approved by a faculty member’s unit or department head and Dean before submission to the Vice Chancellor for Research for final campus approval. Non-tenure-track faculty members and employees with termed appointments may submit proposals with prior approval of their Dean and the Vice Chancellor for Research.”

Furthermore, a principal investigator (PI) is…

The individual (or in the case of some NIH projects, the individuals) designated by [NC State University], and approved by [the sponsor], who will be responsible for the scientific or technical direction of the [entire] project.

Co-principal investigators or co-project directors (co-PI/co-PD) are individuals designated by NC State University and approved by our sponsors who have substantively complementary responsibility for the scientific or technical direction of all or a portion of a project.

An individual can only be a PI or co-PI pursuant to the guidance articulated in the policy of the Board of Trustees defined above or as authorized under an approved exception as described below.

In accordance with the BME Charter, Biomedical Engineering (BME) Faculty: UNC-Chapel Hill faculty holding appointments in the joint Department of BME are eligible to serve as PI on NC State submissions.

Special Cases

This section describes common circumstances where investigator eligibility questions arise. 

All exception requests should be directed to Kevin Schroeder via email to

PI eligibility requests should be initiated as far in advance as possible to give adequate time for consideration but in all cases, prior to communication with the sponsoring agency, whether through proposal submission or project modification requests (PMR) . 

College Research Offices should not approve proposals or submit PMR requests that include investigators that do not have the appropriate PI or investigator status.

Prior to consideration, all exception requests will be reviewed for research compliance, and any compliance deficiencies, including the Conflict of Interest Annual Disclosure, will need to be addressed prior to approval.

  • Postdoctoral associates on paid appointments are considered to be trainees or apprentices and generally are not eligible for a PI exception unless the program to which the institution is applying specifically requires that such an individual serve as the principal investigator, such as postdoctoral fellowship programs. Postdoctoral associates are eligible for exceptions to serve as Co-PI on projects where the department head and dean’s office have determined that the anticipated contribution to the conduct of the work justifies that role, and the expected duration of the postdoctoral associate’s appointment includes the project’s period of performance.
  • Students, including those on an assistantship, are not eligible for an exception unless the program to which the institution is applying specifically requires that the student serves as the PI, such as on certain graduate student fellowship applications. At least one faculty mentor should be listed as a Co-Investigator.
  • Faculty in Phased Retirement may continue as principal and co-investigators to the extent their 50% effort covers all sponsored project commitments, as well as any teaching, service and administrative responsibilities they are performing during phased retirement.
  • Emeritus/emerita/emeritx faculty are eligible to serve as Principal or Co-Investigators, provided doing so does not conflict with the University’s obligations to the sponsor (e.g., effort and intellectual property commitments). Maintaining Investigator roles may require a paid part-time appointment.
  • Other faculty retirees may be approved to serve as Principal or Co-Investigators for purposes of winding down and transitioning their research programs, provided doing so does not conflict with the University’s obligations to the sponsor (e.g., effort and intellectual property commitments).  Maintaining Investigator roles may require a paid part-time appointment.
  • Joint appointments and other formal arrangements committing the professional effort of affiliated individuals to NC State may support a PI or Co-Investigator role. These include national laboratory joint faculty appointees and certain North Carolina Agricultural Research Service (NCARS) employees. Consult SPARCS for eligibility determination and proper characterization of effort in proposals.
  • SHRA employees are generally ineligible for PI status.
  • Certain other scenarios will naturally occur. All requests are considered by the Director of Sponsored Programs on a case-by-case basis.

Investigator Eligibility Revocation

Academic administrators may also request the restriction of PI or co-PI status by outlining the reasons for such restriction, in writing, to the director of Sponsored Programs. The director of Sponsored programs will meet with the department head, dean and other responsible authorities, as well as the Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, to make and execute a decision to restrict PI and/or co-PI status of otherwise eligible employees. Reasons for restriction include but are not limited to: (1) Findings of misconduct; (2) History of failure to meet deliverables or reports on current or past sponsored projects in a timely and orderly fashion; (3) Unmanageable impairment of objectivity; (4) Current investigation into possible misconduct; (5) Fiduciary improprieties; (6) Actions by third parties warranting such actions; etc.

Policies and Regulations