Role & Eligibility of Principal Investigators

Role & Responsibilities

The Principal Investigator (PI) is designated by the University and approved by the sponsor to direct a project funded by an external sponsor. The PI is directly responsible and accountable to the University and sponsor for the proper programmatic, scientific, and technical conduct of the project, and its financial and day-to-day management.

Key responsibilities of the PI during the sponsored award include:

  • Executing the project as outlined in the funded proposal, using sound management techniques
  • Carrying out the project's financial plan as presented in the funded proposal, or making changes to the plan following the award terms, as well as policies and procedures of the sponsor and Tufts
  • Reporting project progress to the sponsor as outlined in the terms of award
  • Complying with all Tufts University policies and procedures related to sponsored award management, including but not limited to human and animal research, biosafety, recombinant DNA, export controls, etc.
  • Understanding how salary charges are distributed and verifying that salary distribution reasonably reflects the work performed on the sponsored projects, as well as certifying payroll and project salary statements.
  • Complying with all applicable sponsor rules, regulations and/or terms and conditions of the award, including additional guidance that may be issued during emergency situations.

For projects that allow more than one PI on a single award, all PIs share the responsibility and authority for leading and directing the project. The contact PI is responsible for communication between the sponsor and the rest of the leadership team. Being named a contact PI does not imply any particular role within the leadership team and does not diminish the responsibility and the accountability of all other PIs on the project. 

The PI is a critical member of the sponsored project team responsible for ensuring compliance with the financial and administrative aspects of the award. Local Research Administrators (LRAs) in partnership with central offices facilitate the fulfillment by the PIs of these responsibilities in the administration of research and other sponsored activities. Importantly, while PIs may delegate administrative responsibilities to others, the ultimate responsibility for the management of the sponsored project award remains with the PI. Because externally sponsored projects are contractual agreements between a sponsor and the University, the University depends on the PI to fulfill their responsibilities in order to comply with the institutional obligations.

Failure of the PI to fulfill their responsibilities in compliance with the award terms and conditions, sponsor regulations, and Tufts policies may result in administrative actions up to and including replacement of the PI on the project, termination of the award with the sponsor, and suspending submission of any new proposals on behalf on noncomplying PI or inclusion of noncompliant investigator in proposals.

Eligibility for PI Status

a) Individual full-time University employees with the following appointment titles are eligible to serve as a PI:

  • Professor, Research Professor, or Clinical Professor
  • Associate Professor, Research Associate Professor, or Clinical Associate Professor
  • Assistant Professor, Research Assistant Professor, or Clinical Assistant Professor
  • Senior Scientist, Scientist I, II, or III (HNRCA only)
  • Librarian, Associate Librarian, or Assistant Librarian

Newly appointed faculty members with PI eligible titles are considered to have PI eligibility to submit proposals through Tufts University before their appointment start date. Evidence of the faculty appointment should be submitted to Pre-Award signing official at the time of the proposal.

University employees with the above titles whose appointment is less than full time are eligible to serve as a PI with the approval of their school or center.

If an investigator wishes to serve as PI in a unit other than their primary appointment, for each proposal the investigator must get written permission from the head of the department (if in the same school) or Dean or designee (if in a different school) that will host the project, along with the concurrence from the primary appointment unit.

b) Individuals appointed with titles such as Research Associate, Postdoctoral Fellow or Graduate student are not eligible to serve as a PI unless the sponsor award is specifically directed at such individuals (such as a fellowship application) and appropriate faculty supervision is assured, by a member of the Tufts Faculty who is eligible to serve as a PI.

Other individuals may serve as a PI, but only on an exceptional basis. Approval may be granted by Jori Barabino, Director of Pre-Award Research Administration, or Zoya Davis-Hamilton, Associate Vice Provost for Research Administration and Development upon the written recommendation of the appropriate Academic Departmental Chair and with the signed concurrence from the appropriate Dean.  Please send your recommendation and justification, in letter format, to the Associate Director in Central Pre-Award who will submit your proposal.  That person will ensure the required information is forwarded for approval.  If approval is granted, a funding proposal may be submitted.

Exceptions to this policy will only be made on the basis of the particular facts involved and not as a routine basis.  Approval may be for a specific proposal and if funded, for that project duration.  Approval may also be given to submit to multiple sponsors. The request for an exception to policy should state the type of exception being requested and include a CV of the individual for whom PI eligibility is sought. The PI applicant must have the necessary experience and independence to compete for their own sponsored program and to administer the project should it be funded, as judged by the Academic Departmental Chair and Dean. Assurances must be given that necessary space or other resources or support will be provided for the length of the specific project and that, should the PI leave Tufts without transfer of the award to a new institution, the sponsoring department will either plan to terminate the project or replace the PI for completion of the University’s obligations to the sponsor. A plan should be developed for administering the sponsored project and should, at a minimum, include the identification of a specific individual with appropriate qualifications who will assume the responsibilities of PI to bring the project to a close.

For the purpose of clarity, the following five categories describe groups of individuals most likely to seek exceptional approval following the process described above.

c) Individual full-time University employees appointed as an Instructor or Lecturer.

d) Individual part-time University employees appointed with position titles in categories “a” and “c,” above.

e) Individual University employees appointed as professional staff to direct research projects in specialized fields that fall outside the typical academic departmental structure, such as those employed in a Center or Institute (e.g. Feinstein International Center, Global Development and Environment Institute, etc.).

f) Individual University employees with administrative position titles on occasion may serve as a PI, limited to projects related to an individual’s official duties and which enhance the mission of the University (e.g. a Student Aid Grant administrated by a senior staff member, a Public Safety Grant administered by the Director of Public and Environmental Safety, or a Massachusetts Campus Compact Grant administered by a Program Director). Exceptional approvals for administrators as PIs will be made by the Vice Provost for Research as appropriate.

g) Individuals appointed as Professor of the Practice, and those with modifiers of Emeritus, Adjunct or Visiting.

Principal Investigator eligibility approved on an exceptional basis can be revoked by the School/Center at any time by sending a formal notification to the Associate Vice Provost for Research Administration and Development with a copy to the Director of Pre-Award Research Administration.


Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life

Faculty at Tufts with a primary appointment at one of the schools may have an appointment at Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life documented by an MOU between the units. These faculty can submit proposals from Tisch if Tisch plays a critical role in facilitating the project, which may involve the following:

  • building the project team comprised of organizations, groups, and individuals within and outside of Tufts
  • preparing a persuasive proposal in the area of Tisch’s expertise aligned with the funding agency priorities
  • planned engagement in the project of faculty affiliated with Tisch or students that are supported by projects at Tisch.

When proposals are submitted from Tisch, Tisch research administration will notify about the proposal the Research Administration Lead at the school/center of the faculty primary appointment.

Additionally, Tufts Collaborative Sponsored Projects policy provides a mechanism for managing collaborative awards consisting of parts of the project with discrete budgets residing in separate schools.