PI, Co-PI Eligibility, Roles and Responsibilities

Policy Approval Authority President
Responsible Division Division of Research and Innovation Partnerships
Responsible University Office Sponsored Programs Administration
Responsible Officer(s) Assistant Vice President
Contact Person Dara Little, dlittle@niu.edu
Primary Audience Faculty
Status Active
Effective Adoption Date 01-01-2016
Last Review Date 01-01-2016
Policy Category/Categories Sponsored Funding/Grants and Contracts


This policy defines the eligibility requirements for serving as a Principal or Co-Principal Investigator on a NIU sponsored project and the roles and responsibilities that come with serving in these capacities.

Reason for Policy

Sponsored projects are contractual agreements between the university and the sponsor. Because of this, it is important that individuals serving as Principal Investigators and Co-Principal Investigators possess the necessary academic and professional credentials and qualifications to carry out the sponsored activity and have access to adequate resources to conduct the work. Serving as an Investigator on a NIU sponsored award is a privilege and requires the Investigator have the requisite experience to oversee the scientific and programmatic as well as financial and compliance aspects of a sponsored project.

Intended Audience

  • Senior Administration, Vice Presidents, Deans, Associate Deans
  • Directors, Department Chairs, Division Heads
  • Supportive and Professional Staff
  • Faculty
  • Departmental/Divisional Administrators
  • Sponsored Programs Administration Personnel
  • Graduate and Undergraduate Students

Roles and Definitions

Principal Investigator (PI)
The Principal Investigator is responsible for the preparation of the intellectual content for the proposal, determining the direction and conduct of the research or program activities during the project, and selecting, hiring and supervising project staff. The PI may hold primary responsibility for managing the project budget, completing technical reports, and any other award requirements necessary to maintain compliance with applicable sponsor and institutional rules and regulations or s/he may share this responsibility with a multi-investigator team.
Co-Principal Investigator (Co-PI)
A Co-PI is a senior member of the key personnel team whose role is similar to that of the PI in determining the intellectual content, direction, and conduct of the research or program activities. A Co-PI may share equal responsibility with the PI for project oversight, budget management, and reporting as part of a multi-investigator team or may direct a particular portion of the project and retain limited administrative oversight over the award.


All NIU Academic Tenured and Tenure-Track Faculty, Research Faculty, and Librarians are eligible to serve as Principal Investigator(PI) or Co-Principal Investigator (Co-PI) on a sponsored project.

Individuals who are not faculty members at NIU at the time of proposal submission but will be appointed to faculty status prior to the proposal being awarded may submit proposals as PI or Co-PI, with documented Chair approval. The Chair signature on the SPA System Tracking and External Project (STEP) form indicates approval.

Adjunct, Visiting, and Emeritus Faculty may serve as a PI or Co-PI with documented approval of their Chair and Dean. The Chair and Dean signature on the SPA STEP form indicates approval. SPA must approve adjunct or visiting faculty who are employed full-time at another institution, corporation, or agency who wish to submit proposals through NIU.

Professional staff may serve as a PI or Co-PI with documented approval of their Chair and Dean, or Vice President, if from an administrative unit. Chair, Dean, or Vice President signature on the SPA STEP form indicates approval.

Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Associates may serve as a Co-PI but are generally not allowed to serve as a PI. Some fellowships or training programs require that a graduate student or postdoctoral associate submit an application through the university as PI. In these cases, an individual who is eligible for PI status shall serve as a Co-PI to provide mentorship and oversight of the award.

Graduate students and undergraduate students generally cannot hold spending authority on grants, regardless of their defined role on a project. SPA, in consultation with the Controller’s Office, may approve exceptions based on the award type, sponsor expectations, and institutional risk.

Argonne National Lab and Fermilab Appointees who hold joint appointments with the university are automatically granted PI and Co-PI status as long as they are eligible for PI status within their own national lab.

Proposal and Award Management under Multi-Investigator Projects

Increasingly, proposals and awards are requiring multiple Principal Investigators due to the changing nature of science and research and the need for interdisciplinary teams to approach complex research questions.

Multi-investigator status will be identified on the SPA STEP form. SPA will consider the PI on the STEP form to be Primus inter pares “first among equals” whereby the PI functions internally as the “contact PI” for grants management purposes. For these projects, all investigators will hold authority to submit the following to SPA: pre-award spending/advance account requests, project expenses, and project changes (e.g. no cost extensions, changes in scope, etc.). Investigator interactions with the sponsor for grants management purposes (including responsibility for progress reports) will follow sponsor policy.

All individuals must be eligible to serve as a PI due to the additional administrative oversight automatically granted to individuals in these team led projects.

SPA strongly encourages investigators develop a management plan outlining the division of responsibilities for technical, financial and administrative oversight when developing a multi-investigator project. Some sponsors will require such a plan as part of the proposal.

Other Policy Notes

All PI and Co-PIs are required to review the proposal before submission and certify the following via the STEP form:
  • The information submitted within the application is true, complete and accurate to the best of his/her knowledge.
  • Any false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements or claims may subject him/her to criminal, civil, or administrative penalties.
  • S/he accepts responsibility for the scientific conduct of the project and submit required progress reports.
  • S/he agrees to the project commitments within the specific time and budget.
  • S/he will comply with all sponsor, government, and University regulations.
  • For NSF proposals, all undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdocs who are supported by and conducting research under the NSF grant will successfully complete an institutional program in the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR).

Project management disputes that cannot be resolved between Investigators (PI/Co-PI or within multi-investigator teams) will be managed at the department level through the appropriate Chairs and in consultation with the Vice President for Research or his/her designee. The University Ombudsperson or other academic officials may take part in facilitating these conversations, if deemed necessary.

With the exception of multi-investigator projects, only the PI has the authority to initiate pre-award spending/advance account requests and to submit project changes (e.g. no cost extensions, change in scope, etc.) through SPA for prior sponsor approval. The PI may delegate spending authority to Co-PIs via the signature card process when receiving an award.

Effective Date: 1/1/2016
Approval: Assistant Vice President for Research and Sponsored Programs

Contact Us

Policy Library

Back to top