Research Administration Policies

RA03 Eligibility to Serve as Principal Investigator (PI)

Policy Status: 


Subject Matter Expert: 

John Hanold, 814-863-0768,

Policy Steward: 

Senior Vice President for Research and the Corporate Controller


  • Purpose
  • Guideline
  • Further Information
  • Cross References

    To identify the criteria for serving as a Principal Investigator (PI) or Co-Principal Investigator (Co-PI) any agreement processed through the Office of Sponsored Programs, the Office of Research Affairs (College of Medicine), or the ARL Business Office. Although the University is legally responsible to the sponsor as the actual recipient of a grant or contract, the PI is held accountable for the proper fiscal management and conduct of the project.


    Only individuals holding full-time faculty rank above that of Assistant Professor may normally accept the role of a Principal Investigator. In all cases, eligibility to serve as PI also will be subject to any applicable sponsor-imposed rules or guidelines. All individuals, regardless of rank, must sign an appropriate Intellectual Property Agreement prior to serving as PI or Co-PI on a sponsored project.

    Who may accept the role of Principal Investigator
    Rank Can Serve as PI Co-PI
    Professor Yes Yes
    Associate Professor Yes Yes
    Assistant Professor Yes Yes
    Research Professor Yes Yes
    Associate Research Professor Yes Yes
    Assistant Research Professor Yes Yes
    Clinical Professor Yes Yes
    Associate Clinical Professor Yes Yes
    Assistant Clinical Professor Yes Yes
    Teaching Professor Yes Yes
    Associate Teaching Professor Yes Yes
    Assistant Teaching Professor Yes Yes
    Librarian Yes Yes
    Associate Librarian Yes Yes
    Assistant Librarian Yes Yes
    Professor of Practice

    With Dept Head and Dean approval

    Retired Faculty With Dept Head and Dean approval* Yes*
    Researcher With Dept Head and Dean approval Yes
    Visiting Professor With Dept Head and Dean approval Yes
    Postdoctoral Scholars or Fellows With Dept Head and Dean approval Yes
    Lecturer With Dept Head and Dean approval (e.g., teaching grants) Yes
    Clinical Lecturer With Dept Head and Dean approval Yes
    Adjunct Faculty No Yes**
    Graduate Student No (except for programs specifically designated for graduate students, e.g., NSF DDIGs). Graduate students may be listed as PI on sponsor forms as appropriate, but the student's advisor will be listed as PI in SIMS. No
    Staff Cannot normally serve as PI on research awards. May serve as PI on non-research awards (instruction, outreach) with approval of Dean and/or administrative unit head. May serve as PI on ARL and Cooperative Extension awards. Yes**
    Non-PSU Personnel No No***

    *Service of emeritus or retired faculty as either a principal investigator or co-investigator is subject to adherence to RAG03 - Retired Faculty Participation and HR45 - Post-Retirement Appointments.

    **With Department Head and Dean approval

    ***Collaborators from other institutions may sometimes be listed as Co-PIs on certain proposal documents (face pages, key personnel listings) if permitted under sponsor rules. Prior to listing a non-PSU collaborator on a proposal, Penn State must secure all required representations and certifications from the collaborator's institution.


    NOTE 1: The Office for Research Protections uses the term "Principal Investigator" to refer to the individual responsible for managing a research protocol (as in the case of human subjects research). The rules identified above are not intended to establish the criteria for serving as a PI on such protocols.

    NOTE 2: The College of Medicine continues to use certain academic titles no longer listed in AC21 - Definitions of Academic Ranks. Research Associates and Senior Research Associates at the College of Medicine may continue to serve as PI and Co-PI on sponsored projects. Instructors, Senior Instructors, and Clinical/Adjunct faculty members at the College of Medicine may serve as Co-PI and, with the approval of their Department Head and Dean, as PI.


    For questions, additional detail, or to request changes to this policy, please contact the Office of the Senior Vice President for Research or the Office of the Corporate Controller.


    AC21 - Definitions of Academic Ranks

    HR45 - Post-Retirement Appointments

    RAG03 - Retired Faculty Participation (Formerly RAG09, Processing Sponsored Projects Involving Retired Faculty Participation)


    Revision History:

    • September 18, 2019 - Changed Vice President for Research to Senior Vice President for Research

    • December 4, 2018 - Updated faculty ranks to harmonize policy with AC21 - Definitions of Academic Ranks
    • September 11, 2017 - Noted eligibility of Cooperative Extension staff to serve as PI
    • February 26, 2016 - New Policy

    Date Approved: 

    November 30, 2018

    Date Published: 

    December 4, 2018

    Effective Date: 

    November 30, 2018