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Principal investigator

The individual responsible for the conduct of the sponsored project. See RSP 102 for further information on principal investigator eligibility requirements and RSP 103 for detailed principal investigator responsibilities.

Co-principal investigator

Senior personnel on the project. The internal ERA system only recognizes one Principal Investigator of record, which is the person with the Principal Investigator role. Some sponsors may recognize the named Co-PI as sharing equal responsibility for the direction of a research program. In these cases, there is still only one PI of record on the internal documentation.

Key professional personnel

Key professional personnel (or key personnel) are all individuals who participate in the scientific development or execution of the project. Typically, key personnel have a PhD, EdD or MD, but may also include the master’s or baccalaureate level, provided they contribute in a substantive way to the research.

What you need to know

Principal investigator eligibility

Certain programs or sponsors may identify criteria for PI eligibility. Such criteria may include degree(s), awards/honors, tenure, how many times the individual has been a PI, faculty membership, etc. (see WI-DO-05). These qualifications should be reviewed carefully to ensure eligibility. In addition to the sponsor’s criteria, the potential PI must be aware of their responsibilities, have approval from his unit, and meet eligibility requirements as dictated by ASU policy.

Principal investigator responsibilities

The principal investigator’s primary responsibilities include:

  • Confirming his/her own eligibility by reviewing the sponsor’s requirements and university policies;
  • Conforming to ASU’s Limited Submission process, when applicable;
  • Identifying which project members have independent responsibility for design, conduct, and reporting on the sponsored project;
  • Complying with all sponsor rules and regulations, including the submission of reports and deliverables.

Related policies and work instructions include:

Unit responsibilities

Unit approval at the department and college (or equivalent) levels is required for any individual to serve as a PI on a sponsored project. Approving the proposal in ERA affirms that:

  • The proposed PI is in fact eligible to fill the PI role;
  • The PI will have an appointment for the full term of the proposed grant period;
  • The unit will ensure completion of the project and delivery of all reports, etc. required by the sponsor.

Eligible ASU personnel

Provided they meet the sponsor’s criteria, the following individuals at Arizona State University are eligible to serve as PIs on externally sponsored projects:

  • Tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure track faculty:
    • Assistant professors
    • Associate professors
    • Emeritus faculty
    • Instructors
    • Lecturers
    • President’s professors
    • Professors
    • Regents professors
    • Research assistant professors
    • Research associate professors
    • Research professors
    • Research scholars 
  • Permanent staff (such as administrative, academic and professional positions, classified staff, etc.)

(See ACD 505-02: Faculty Membership, Appointment Categories, Ranks, and Titles and ACD 607-01: Emeritus Status.)

Note: if the eligible PI does not have an active paid appointment at the time of application an internal PI must be designated.

The following individuals at Arizona State University are not eligible to serve as sole, primary PIs on externally sponsored projects; however, these individuals may serve as Co-PIs or key professional personnel with a lead PI who meets all the eligibility requirements outlined herein:

  • Faculty affiliates who are not employees of the University.*
  • Visiting scholars who are not employees of the University:
    • Visiting artists*
    • Visiting assistant professors*
    • Visiting associate professors*
    • Visiting professors*
    • Visiting scientists*
    • Visiting writers* 
  • Temporary employees:
    • Adjunct faculty*
    • Graduate and undergraduate students*
    • Postdoctoral fellows/appointees*

*A sponsor’s program guidelines may encourage or permit non-ASU employees and temporary employees to apply as PI for a specified program. In this case the sponsor’s application form will indicate the non-ASU or temporary employee as the PI and list a PI-eligible university employee as an investigator. For internal ASU purposes, the eligible ASU PI would be shown as “Internal PI” on all internal ASU forms and would be responsible for supervising project activities of the non-ASU or temporary employee investigator (RSP 102).

Faculty newly joining ASU

Faculty who are joining ASU may wish to:

  • Transfer in sponsored projects. See Transfer of Sponsored Projects to ASU page. 
  • Submit a proposal through ASU prior to their arrival. The following then applies:
    • If the new faculty member has already signed their offer letter, the unit should obtain an ASU ID by creating a courtesy affiliate in PeopleSoft.
    • New faculty members who, for some reason, cannot be input into PeopleSoft, must list an internal PI on ERA SmartForm 1.1, question 4.0.
    • If the new faculty member has not yet signed their offer letter, they are ineligible to submit as an ASU PI.

Frequently asked questions

What’s the difference between a PD/PI, multiple PI, a Co-PI, a co-Investigator, and an application PI?

  • The Principal Investigator is designated by the recipient (ASU) to direct the project or program being supported by sponsored funding. S/he is responsible and accountable to the University for the proper conduct of the project or program. ASU is, in turn, legally responsible and accountable to the Sponsor for the performance and financial aspects of the sponsored activity. 
  • A Co-Principal Investigator or Co-Investigator is an individual working in partnership with the Principal Investigator in the management, development and/or execution of the project. The designation of a Co-PI/PD or co-investigator does not affect the principal investigator’s role and responsibilities as the individual accountable for performance of the sponsored project and management of the sponsored funding.
  • Some sponsors use the term Co-PI or Multiple PI to indicate the role has equal responsibility and authority as the lead PI (NIH uses the term Multiple PI, and NSF uses the term Co-PI). While other sponsors use the term to represent that the individual has more authority than a co-investigator but not equal authority as the PI/PD (USDA). Some sponsors use the term to represent an alternative title for a non-lead PI on a multi-PI project. Not all sponsors use these roles.
  • Regardless of the way a sponsor defines Co-PI and Co-I roles, ASU’s ERA system only recognizes one Principal Investigator of record, which is the person with the Principal Investigator role.The Co-PD/PI and Co-Investigator designations are not equivalent to the PI designation for ASU’s purposes, nor do the terms “Co-PI” or “Co-Investigator” mean co-leading of projects. 

Are faculty on one-year appointments eligible as PIs for multi-year projects, or do they require an internal PI if they are submitting a proposal?

Faculty on one-year appointments may serve as PIs on proposals and awards for multi-year projects; however, there are a few things that need to be done and it is a risk:

  • The faculty to be PI must discuss with their Chair, who can make a recommendation to the Dean if the PI role will impede their contract appointment and ability to fulfill duties.
  • The faculty to be PI must understand their responsibility with laws, regulations, etc. in managing a sponsored project.
  • The department must have a plan in the event the faculty member departs (voluntary or non-reappointment) or if the faculty member is non-compliant in managing the sponsored project.

Forms and references

Reviewing a funding announcement guide.

Training materials

Reviewing a funding announcement guide.