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Principal Investigator (PI)

The University research community has an interest in recognizing both the holder of the award with the sponsor and the person serving as institutional oversight (if different). In order to accomplish this, the University research community recognizes two types of eligible Principal Investigators (PIs): (1) the U-M PI and the (2) Sponsor PI.

U-M Principal Investigator

The U-M  Principal Investigator (PI) is a University of Michigan employee having the background and training in scientific and administrative oversight necessary to conduct and manage a sponsored project. The individual must be treated by the appointing unit as an independent investigator and by the University as a non-temporary employee. The expectation is that eligible U-M PIs will submit proposals through their primary appointing unit unless other arrangements have been explicitly approved, by the units involved.

The U-M Principal Investigator is considered independent if s/he is a tenure-track faculty (Instructor through Professor), a research faculty (Research Investigator through Research Professor), or holds a Clinical professorial appointment. With unit approval, Emeritus faculty may also be appointed as U-M Principal Investigators.

In addition, Archivists, Curators, and Librarians in units that typically use these titles are eligible to serve as U-M Principal Investigators, if approved by the head of the unit.

Regardless of experience and education, Research Associates, Research Assistants, and other staff are not considered to be independent investigators. In general, only on rare occasions will personnel who are not tenure-track or research faculty be permitted to serve as U-M Principal Investigators on sponsored research projects.

Sponsor Principal Investigator

A U-M Sponsor Principal Investigator (PI) is an employee or student of the University of Michigan who meets the eligibility requirements of the sponsor.

In most cases, the PI eligible by both the Sponsor definition and the U-M definition will be the same individual and will be named in the U-M Principal Investigator field of the Proposal Approval Form (PAF).

In cases when an individual does not qualify as both the Sponsor and U-M Principal Investigator, both must be named on the PAF: one as U-M Sponsor Principal Investigator (Sponsor PI) and the other as U-M Principal Investigator (PI).

U-M will allow anyone employed by U-M who meets the sponsor's guidelines for eligibility to serve in the Sponsor PI capacity. This situation corresponds to the Proposal Approval Form (PAF) role of "U-M Sponsor Principal Investigator." U-M will recognize that individual as the U-M Principal Investigator as long as the employment criteria and level of independence associated with the current job title as defined below is met.

Certain sponsored project competitions may be directed specifically to the fund or support individual students, fellows, or other non-permanent employees. Examples include doctoral dissertation awards and individual pre-and postdoctoral fellowship programs. The proposal format of these typically require that the individual applicant (e.g., the student or fellow) be identified in the application as the PI in those cases.

If the Sponsor PI does not meet the University's criteria for U-M PI, another individual meeting the requirements must be named in order to provide internal guidance and leadership for the scientific, technical, administrative, and financial aspects of a sponsored project.

Other PI Titles: Project Director, Program Director

For the purposes of this policy statement, the term Principal Investigator shall encompass other sponsor-specific titles such as Project Director and Program Director that are commonly used for non-research sponsored projects.

In these situations, that individual will be identified on the PAF as the Sponsor Principal Investigator. The designation should be used only in these circumstances and requires the designation of a separate U-M Principal Investigator on the PAF.

Requests for exceptions to the employee / student requirement can be considered. See exceptions defined below.

Replacing a PI when PI moves but Sponsored Project remains with U-M

If the sponsored project is not being transferred to the PI’s new institution, a replacement PI must be named. See the Post-award Change Request Form (PI/Key Person Change section) for guidance on this process.

Additionally, the University will recognize multiple individuals serving as Sponsor PI or PI when the sponsor explicitly allows it.


Each of the following is an exception to the generally applicable PI eligibility limitations described above. ORSP Project Representatives will review each PI exception request (process described below) and grant approval of the exception on a case-by-case basis. In some situations ORSP will consider the exception only if certain conditions are met:

  • Since Lecturers and Visiting and Adjunct appointments are not permanent, Lecturers and Visiting and Adjunct Faculty (instructional and research) will only be permitted to be Principal Investigators if the unit supports the appointment and the individual draws salary support for the performance of the project through the University (i.e., they must be paid employees). Any request for exception requires a written document from the Dean supporting the PI assignment and explaining why the exception is necessary. The document must accompany each PAF to which the exception applies.
  • Heads of non-research and non-teaching units are occasionally permitted to be Principal Investigators on projects considered to be within the scope of their duties.
  • Proposals have been processed from individuals who are not permanent or independent but for whom the promotion to an eligible position, prior to award, is assured by the department and the school. This must be noted on the PAF by adding a future appointment in the U-M Investigators detail section.
  • Proposals are routinely processed for individuals who have accepted PI-eligible positions at the University, but who are not yet employees. The expectation is that their University appointment will be effective on or after the proposed effective date of the sponsored project. This should be documented in the PAF as a future appointment in the U-M Investigators detail section.

Unit Heads are reminded that fiscal and program responsibility for the project may revert to their office if, for any reason, the Principal Investigator is unable to complete the assignment.

Multiple Principal Investigators

Two or more U-M Principal Investigators can be designated for a project if the sponsoring agency explicitly permits Multiple Principal Investigators or Co-Principal Investigators. The Multiple/Co-PIs share authority for leading and directing the project, intellectually, logistically, and financially. Each PI is responsible and accountable for the proper conduct of the project, including the submission of all required reports. The designation of Multiple or Co-U-M Principal Investigators for a single project diminishes neither the responsibility nor the accountability on any individual PI. One of the Multiple/Co-U-M PIs must be designated as the Contact Principal Investigator.

Federal-Wide Research Terms and Conditions (formerly Federal Demonstration Partnership or FDP).

Project Directors of RTC-eligible projects are urged to consult with the appropriate ORSP Project Representative should they have any questions on matters related to prior approval requirements, pre-award costs, no cost time extensions, unobligated fund balances, space alterations and renovations, cost allocations, and noncompeting renewals.



If a U-M Principal Investigator leaves the University prior to the end of a sponsored project, leadership arrangements for the duration of the project should be discussed with the unit, ORSP, and the sponsor, in advance of departure.

References and Resources