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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Principal Investigator Status

The term Principal Investigator (PI) is used to identify a researcher with primary responsibility for a research project. In various contexts, the specific purport, eligibility criteria and responsibilities of PI status may vary.

Principal Investigator Status for Grants

The term Principal Investigator (PI) is used most commonly to identify the individual who is responsible for a sponsored research project (grant). This responsibility includes both leadership of the scientific/technical aspects of the project and compliance with the financial and administrative aspects of the award. Tenured and tenure-track faculty are eligible to serve as sponsored project PIs. The following policy documents describe the procedures by which academic staff may also be authorized to serve as PIs in this context.

The Chancellor has delegated the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education (VCRGE) authority to grant approval for academic staff members to serve as principal investigators on extramural grants and contracts. Under present VCRGE rules, an academic staff member may serve as Principal Investigator (PI) on proposals and awards by requesting Limited PI Status on a project-by-project basis as described below, or, if eligible, by requesting Permanent PI Status.

One-Time Limited PI Request Procedures

  1. Request for Limited PI Status form should be completed for each proposal. (Make sure you use the Adobe toolbar when saving the document so that the words you added to the document are saved. This toolbar has the icons in it and appears below the pulldown menus in your browser.)
  2. Upload form as attachment in WISPER.
  3. The Chair/Director and Dean will approve the request by approving the WISPER record.

Blanket Limited PI Request Procedures

Schools/colleges/institutes may approve limited PI status for an individual for a defined period of time at the request of a department/center. This would allow an investigator to submit proposals in a single category (i.e., research or outreach) without including full documentation every time. Typically, the request is made by routing a hard copy signed by the chair of the completed Request for Blanket Limited PI Status to your school/college dean’s office staff prior to the submission of any proposals. Staff approved for this “blanket” option should include information in the comments tab of WISPER that the individual is approved for blanket status and state the end date of the current approval. The department/center and school/college must internally track the individuals for whom they have approved this arrangement and the approved time frames. Each limited PI’s qualifications and demonstrated abilities to meet programmatic objectives and carry out administrative management of projects must be re-evaluated at least once every three years. Blanket Limited PI status does not carry eligibility for VCRGE Research Committee funding.

Eligibility Guidelines

Generally, the faculty of the staff member’s department will have voted to grant PI status to the individual. This vote, and the justification provided on the Limited PI Status Form should address the following criteria at a minimum:

  1. Record of increasing responsibility serving as Co-Investigator or collaborator on grants or contracts awarded to and carried out at UW–Madison.
  2. Demonstrated ability to carry out responsibilities of PI, including:
    1. meeting stated programmatic objectives of projects
    2. administrative management of projects (financial and personnel management).

Additional Qualification Guidelines by Title

Staff having the qualifications listed in sections A through D below are generally considered to be in appropriate positions to request Limited PI status.

A. Research Academic Staff Qualifications:

  • Earned research doctorate (PhD) or other terminal degree in the field, such as an MFA, AND
  • Holds an academic staff appointment in the following series: Scientist, Innovator, or Researcher.

B. Clinical Health Sciences (CHS) Academic Staff Qualifications:

  • Earned MD or equivalent terminal degree, AND
  • Holds an academic staff appointment in the Professor (CHS) series.

C. Clinical Academic Staff Qualifications:

  • Earned degree requirement varies by discipline:
    1. In the Medical School, a MD is required.
    2. In Veterinary Medicine, a DVM is required.
    3. In Pharmacy, a Doctor in Pharmacy or Masters in Pharmacy is required.
    4. In Nursing, a PhD, DNSc, DSN, or EdD are required, AND
  • Holds an academic staff appointment in the Clinical Instructor or Professor series.

D. Emeritus Faculty Qualifications:

  • Has been granted emeritus professorial status by UW–Madison.

Academic staff members who do not meet these qualifications may also be granted Limited PI Status at the discretion of the Dean or designee for circumstances in which the project is most appropriately directed by a person in the academic staff member’s role (i.e., an Outreach Program Manager directing an outreach project).

Undergraduate students, graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, visiting professors, and visiting academic staff are not eligible to apply for limited PI status. For these individuals, it is suggested that an appropriate faculty member serve as PI, and the student, postdoctoral or visiting scholar be listed as Co-Investigator. Exceptions will be granted when the visiting title is temporary pending resolution of a visa issue. In addition, postdoctoral scholars may be listed as PI when it is expected that, should the grant be awarded, they would move from the employee-in-training category into an appropriate research academic staff or faculty position. Such proposed change in status requires their department’s approval and their Dean’s or designee’s approval prior to the submission of a limited PI status request, and should be documented in a brief memo uploaded as an attachment to the WISPER record.

Effort Reporting and Limited PI Status

Individuals pursuing Limited PI Status should refer to the UW–Madison Guidelines for Effort Reporting, section 1.3.1, regarding activities that can and cannot be allocated to sponsored projects. Note that salary for proposal writing activities must be supported by non-sponsored funding. For further information regarding the level and duration of non-sponsored funding required, please contact your chair/director or school/college dean’s office.

Permanent Principal Investigator Status for Academic Staff

Many UW–Madison academic staff members have strong research records, including those who have requested and been granted Limited PI Status on multiple occasions and successfully carried out competitive externally funded research grants. This document outlines a process whereby these experienced academic staff members may request Permanent PI status not tied to a specific project.

Academic staff members granted Permanent Principal Investigator status will no longer need to request permission to serve as a PI each time they submit a grant proposal. In addition, Permanent PIs are eligible to apply to the VCRGE Research Committee for funds through the Fall Competition.

Academic staff members who believe they meet the criteria for Permanent PI status may apply by submitting the materials described in this Checklist to their Department Chair or Center Director for consideration.

Applications supported by the Chair/Director and School/College Dean’s Office should be submitted to the Principal Investigator Committee c/o Peggy Ziebarth; please submit the full application as a single pdf file attached to an email message. Deadlines for submission to the committee are: October 15 and February 15 of each year. (A list of current members of the Principal Investigator Committee is available on the Secretary of the Faculty’s committee rosters page).

For purposes of the criteria for Permanent PI status, a research contract involves a systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.  Scholarly publications are assumed and Intellectual Property may result from the research.

In contrast, service contracts (agreements) are contracts in which the University provides a routine service which meets predefined specifications with no novel or creative input by a University member. The activity does not add to the body of fundamental knowledge in a given field. Scholarly publications and Intellectual Property are not expected, therefore, service contracts to not meet the criteria for Permanent PI Status.

The Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education will make the final determination about whether a contract meets the University’s criteria for a research contract or a service contract.

The PI Committee is advisory to the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education who has authority to approve or deny requests for Permanent PI Status.

Please consult with your dean’s office prior to preparing an application; some schools/colleges have additional criteria for recommendation of Permanent PI status.

Criteria for Permanent Principal Investigator (PI) Status

I.  Any academic staff member who has fulfilled one of the following research accomplishments at UW–Madison may be eligible for Permanent PI status (emeritus faculty/staff are not eligible to apply for Permanent Principal Investigator status):

  1. successfully served at least twice as a Principal Investigator on nationally or internationally competitive research grants and/or research contracts awarded to and carried out to completion at UW–Madison. Competitive renewals meet the criteria for two grants.  The two grant criteria can also be met by serving at least once as Principal Investigator AND at least once as Co-Principal Investigator, or
  2. successfully served at least once as Principal Investigator on a nationally or internationally competitive research grant and/or research contract having a duration of 5 years or more, or
  3. secured and successfully administered at least 2 competitive externally funded research grants or research contracts that are not internationally or nationally competitive but which show compelling evidence of high achievement and recognition in his/her discipline.  The two grant criteria can also be met by serving at least once as Principal Investigator AND at least once as Co-Principal Investigator.

The term Principal Investigator is used to identify the individual with primary responsibility for a research project including leadership of the scientific and technical aspects of the project and compliance with the financial and administrative aspects of the award.

II.  Applicants must demonstrate a solid record of research accomplishment that is highly regarded by scholars in their field and show considerable promise of continuing outstanding research. The PI Committee shall advise the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education in making this determination in light of the following criteria:

  1. a significant record of published research in refereed journals/books, or an equivalent level of accomplishment disseminating the research findings through conference presentations and nationally distributed research reports.
  2. a record of successful administrative management of research grants and/or research contracts on which the academic staff member has served as Principal Investigator.
  3. evidence of successful completion of the stated objectives of research grants and/or research contracts on which the academic staff member has served as Principal Investigator. This evidence should be in the form of publications or written reports.
  4. the PI Committee will also weigh other evidence of scholarly impact, including; invitations to speak or consult; being invited to serve on or chair national review panels; invited publications; and invitations to apply for research funding.

The evidence must reveal a significant history of scholarly accomplishment that lends confidence that such activity will continue into the future.  The application must include a one-page statement by the applicant of his/her research goals for the next five years.

Additional Qualification Guidelines by Title

Academic staff having the qualifications listed in one of the sections 1 through 3 below are generally considered to be in appropriate positions to request Permanent PI status.

  1. Research Academic Staff Qualifications:
    • Earned research doctorate (PhD) or other terminal degree in the field, such as an MFA, AND
    • Holds an academic staff appointment in the following series: Scientist, Innovator, or Researcher.
  2. Clinical Health Sciences (CHS) Academic Staff Qualifications:
    • Earned MD or equivalent terminal degree, AND
    • Holds an academic staff appointment in the Professor (CHS) series.
  3. Clinical Academic Staff Qualifications:
    • Earned degree requirement varies by discipline:
      1. In the Medical School, a MD is required.
      2. In Veterinary Medicine, a DVM is required.
      3. In Pharmacy, a Doctor in Pharmacy or Masters in Pharmacy is required.
      4. In Nursing, a PhD, DNSc, DSN, or EdD are required, AND
    • Holds an academic staff appointment in the Clinical Instructor or Professor series.

Academic Staff members who do not meet these qualifications may also be considered for Permanent PI status if they are supported by the Chair/Director and School/College Dean’s office and have met the research accomplishments articulated in the previous section.

Process for Review of Permanent Principal Investigator Status

  1. A departmental or center recommendation for the granting of Permanent Principal Investigator status may indicate a commitment of department or center space, resources and administrative support for the candidate’s research grants.  Any departmental or center conditions for, or continuation of, Permanent PI Status must be articulated in the letter of recommendation.  Applications approved by the department or center shall be transmitted to the relevant School/College Dean for review and signature (some schools/colleges may choose to submit a formal recommendation letter by the dean’s office at the time of approval; this should accompany the application), and then to the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education c/o Peggy Ziebarth. Supporting material and documentation are specified in the checklist attached to this document.
  2. Before approving or denying a request for Permanent Principal Investigator status, the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education shall seek the advice of the PI Committee. The PI Committee will review the request for PI status according to the Criteria for Permanent Principal Investigator Status, above. The PI Committee will be chaired by a Divisional Associate Vice Chancellor for Research.  The PI Committee Chair will assign a member of the committee to be the primary reviewer of the application. The reviewer will contact and interview the applicant’s department chair or center director in order to clarify any ambiguities in the application and verify ongoing commitment of department or center space, resources and administrative support for the candidate. For academic staff who are not funded by nationally or internationally competitive grants, this interview will also provide an opportunity for the reviewer to learn about the funding mechanisms in the applicant’s discipline and to better assess the applicant’s academic stature. The reviewer also has the option to contact the applicant. The reviewer will then report to the full committee and lead a discussion of the application.
  3. If the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education after receiving the advice of the PI Committee, approves the departmental/center recommendation he/she shall add the candidate’s name to the official list of Permanent PIs posted on the VCRGE website.
  4. If the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education action is contrary to the recommendation of the PI Committee, he/she should so inform the PI Committee and allow it to reconsider its original decision. Such reconsideration and the pursuant conclusions shall be made known to the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education within 30 days.
  5. The dean, department/center, and academic staff member shall be notified promptly of the final actions taken by the PI Committee and the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education.
  6. If the Vice Chancellor for Research and Education disapproves a departmental/center recommendation for Principal Investigator status, the academic staff member concerned may request, or the department/center with the consent of the academic staff member may request, a written statement of the reasons to be provided within 20 days and may seek reconsideration of the decision.

A Permanent PI who moves to a position in a different department/center and/or school/college, and who does not enter the tenure track, should obtain approval for the transfer of PI status from the new department/center and school/college prior to submission of proposals through the new unit. The Chair or Director of the new department or center should submit a letter requesting this transfer to the Dean or designee in the associated school/college. The Dean or designee should respond to the Department Chair or Center Director and copy the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education regarding the outcome of the request. If the transfer is approved, the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education will revise the Academic Staff with Permanent PI Status list to show the individual’s new affiliation. If the transfer is not approved, the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education will remove the individual’s name from this list.