Principal Investigators

I. Scope

This policy addresses who is eligible to be a Principal Investigator (PI) at George Mason University and the roles and responsibilities of being a PI.

II. Policy Statement

A. Eligibility

  1. Eligibility by Appointment: In order to serve as a Principal Investigator for a sponsored research project or for an IRB, IACUC, IBC, or RSC protocol at the university, an individual must hold one of the following types of appointments: (1) a tenured appointment,(2) a tenure-track appointment, (3) a full-time, fixed-term appointment as a member of the instructional, research, or clinical faculty, (4) a senior research scientist or senior research engineer appointment, or (5) an administrative or professional faculty appointment.
  2. Eligibility by Exception: An individual who is not eligible by appointment to serve as a Principal Investigator may request PI-eligibility by exception in accordance with the Procedure for Request and Approval of a PI-Eligibility Exception. There are three categories of exceptions:

a. An individual holding one of the following types of appointments may serve as a Principal Investigator with the approval of his or her dean: an adjunct faculty member; an affiliate faculty member (as defined in the Faculty Handbook); a part-time, fixed-term appointment as a member of the instructional, research, or clinical faculty; a post-doctoral fellow; or a research scientist, research engineer, or research manager appointment. In approving a PI eligibility exception, the dean assumes responsibility for the execution of the project financially and in terms of the work of the project.

b. a member of the faculty at a collaborating institution may serve as a Principal Investigator if a member of the George Mason University faculty who meets the requirements of this policy also serves as a Principal Investigator on the project

c. a prospective member of the faculty may submit a proposal for funding if he or she has received an offer of employment from the university but may serve as a Principal Investigator only if he or she meets the requirements of this policy when the project is funded.

  1. Eligibility Exception Criteria: Approval of an exception requires

a. The individual requesting the exception possesses qualifications which satisfy:

i. the general standards of research competence appropriate to the professorial rank comparable to the appointment held by the individual;

ii. the specific PI eligibility and regulatory requirements of the proposed sponsor.

b. Demonstration that the project for which the exception is being requested is in the best interest of the University and is important to the achievement of research or educational goals of the unit that will administer the project.

c. The support of graduate students and/or postdocs in the conduct of their research, and/or the participation of undergraduate students in the research is a component of the project for which the exception is being requested, or else justification is given for why it is not a component of the project.

d. Space and facilities can be assigned without detriment to the regular instructional and research responsibilities of the University.

B.  Role and Responsibilities

  1. General: A Principal Investigator is an individual designated by the university as having an appropriate level of authority and responsibility for the proper conduct of the research, including the appropriate use of funds and administrative requirements such as the submission of scientific progress reports to the funding agency. If the university designates multiple Principal Investigators for a project, they share the authority and responsibility for leading and directing the research, intellectually and logistically.  Neither the funding agency nor the university attributes any difference in scientific stature to faculty members who serve as multiple PI’s.

2. Contact Principal Investigator: If the university designates multiple Principal Investigators for a project, it designates one of the multiple PI’s as the Contact Principal Investigator.  A Contact PI is the person to whom agency program officials direct all communications related to scientific, technical, and budgetary aspects of the project.  Individual agencies may refer to the person who is responsible for project-related communications by various terms, such as Contact PI, Coordinating PI, or Project Coordinator.

3. Project Administration: A Principal Investigator has a number of specific responsibilities relating to the administration of the project. The specific responsibilities of a Principal Investigator in various University Policies are collected together in a Compendium of Principal Investigator Responsibilities in University Policies. Members of the university community may obtain advice on PI responsibilities and assistance in discharging them from the university’s Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP,, Office of Research Integrity & Assurance (IRB, IACUC), or Environmental Health & Safety Office (IBC, RSC).

4. Level of Effort: A Principal Investigator is responsible for ensuring that each faculty member and senior researcher identified in the project proposal contributes some level of effort, paid or unpaid by the sponsor, to the project unless the project is for equipment and instrumentation, a doctoral dissertation, or student augmentation.

III. Definitions

“Principal Investigator” means the individual responsible for the scientific, technical, or programmatic aspects of the grant, as well as resource allocation, fiscal stewardship, and overall administrative conduct of a sponsored project within the terms and conditions of the award and in accordance with University rules and regulations. Where there are other PIs on the award, designated by Mason and the sponsor, they are referred to as Co-PIs. In these cases, one PI assumes the role of project leader or lead PI and is listed first on the proposal. A lead PI must hold an eligible appointment (section II.A.1 of this policy). The PI and any identified Co-PIs, however, will be jointly responsible for the conduct of the project including submission of the requisite project reports.

“Co-Principal Investigator” (Co-PI) means a senior member of the key personnel team whose role is similar to that of the PI in determining the scientific, intellectual, and technical 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. Co-PIs will be jointly responsible for submission of the requisite project reports.

“Co-Investigator” (Co-I) means an individual with a significant, essential role in the scientific conduct of a research project, but who shares neither in the scientific or technical design or direction of the project, nor in the scientific, administrative, and fiscal authority, responsibility, or oversight, of the project. A Co-Investigator typically devotes a specified percentage of time to the project. This role may be considered Senior/Key Personnel.

“Senior/Key Personnel” means an individual who contributes to the scientific development or execution of a project in a substantive measurable way. These personnel are named in the grant proposal and typically require Sponsor approval to change.

IV. Compliance

The Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Economic Impact is responsible for the administration of this policy.  The Office of Sponsored Programs has administrative responsibility for all externally-sponsored projects at the university.  The Office of Research Integrity & Assurance has administrative responsibility for all projects involving human subjects and vertebrate animals.  The Environmental Health & Safety Office has administrative responsibility for all safety committees and projects reviewed by these committees.

V. Dates

A. Effective Date:

This policy will become effective upon the date of approval by the Senior Vice President for Administration and Finance and the Provost and Executive Vice President.

B. Date of Most Recent Review:


VI. Timetable for Review

This policy, and any related procedures, shall be reviewed every five years or more frequently as needed.

VII. Signatures


Senior Vice President for Administration and Finance

Provost and Executive Vice President

Date Approved: September 24, 2012

Revision Approved: February 22, 2021