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.

Policy Statement

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

“4.4 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.

Policy Interpretation

This web page endeavors to clarify the circumstances in which exceptions will be granted and to clarify the logic behind such exceptions and the underlying policy. All exceptions should be addressed to Director of Sponsored Programs Sherrie Settle via email at

Certain exceptions that require approval but do not require further justification are described below:

  • Postdoctoral associates on a paid appointment or similarly situated paid employees are considered to be trainees or apprentices and are generally not eligible for an 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 a co-PI on projects where the department head and dean’s office have determined that the substance of the contribution to the proposed work, the anticipated contribution to the conduct of the work, and the expected duration of the postdoctoral associate’s appointment and the project are congruent (keep in mind that appointments may not run more than five years).
  • 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.
  • Visiting scholars who are concurrently paid employees of the institution and have an established scholarly career meritorious of consideration by an academic department for appointment at the Visiting Associate Professor rank or above may be considered for PI status.
  • Adjunct faculty on paid termed appointment with an established career meritorious of consideration by an academic department for appointment at the Adjunct Associate Professor rank or above may be considered for Principal Investigator status provided there is a co-Investigator from the tenured or tenure-track faculty rank of the institution.
  • Certain North Carolina Agricultural Research Service (NCARS) and North Carolina Cooperative Extension (NCCES) employees can serve as co-PIs, including research assistant professors, research associate professors, extension assistant professors and extension associate professors. NCARS and NCCES researchers and senior researchers can also serve as a sole PI on grants and contracts. This eligibility does not imply tenure.
  • 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.
  • Emeritus professors¬†are eligible to be lead investigators.

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