Principal Investigator Eligibility

The title of Principal Investigator (PI) identifies the individual responsible for the conduct of a sponsored project.  This responsibility includes the intellectual conduct of the project, fiscal accountability, administrative aspects, and the adherence to relevant policies and regulations.  Under the terms and conditions of the award, a PI accepts sponsored funding on behalf of the University of Montana.  For that reason, PIs must have a reasonable prospect of long-term employment at the University.


Principal Investigator (PI) means the individual with primary responsibility for and in charge of a sponsored project.  PIs may also be referred to as Project Directors or other titles by the external sponsors.  Regardless of the term used by the sponsor, this policy will apply to all individuals in the role of PI.

Individuals may choose to share the responsibilities described herein as Co-Principal Investigators (Co-PIs).  Co-PIs must meet the same eligibility and training requirements as PIs, unless ineligible to serve as a sole, primary PI as described below.


It is the PI's responsibility to work with his/her appropriate departmental research administrator and preaward sponsored programs specialist, and submit the eprop for institutional routing and approval with adequate time for review

Eligible. The following employees at the University of Montana are automatically eligible to serve as PIs on externally sponsored projects and must meet responsibility and training expectations:

  • Regular, tenure-track  faculty,
  • Non-tenure track faculty (such as lecturers, research faculty, adjunct faculty, clinical faculty, etc.) with explicit permission from their dean/director, and 
  • Permanent contractual staff (such as administrative positions, academic & professional positions, letter-of-appointment [excluding postdoc] positions, classified staff, etc.).

Also eligible are:

Ineligible. The following individuals are NOT eligible to serve as sole, primary PIs on externally sponsored projects without the specific approval of an exception; however, these individuals may serve as Co-PIs with a lead PI who meets all the eligibility requirements outlined herein:

  • Unfunded research faculty without a Research Faculty Agreement;
  • Faculty Affiliates who are not employees of the University,
  • Visiting scholars who are not employees of the University,
  • Postdoctoral scholars/fellows, and
  • Graduate and undergraduate students.


Unfunded Research Faculty, Faculty Affiliates, or Visiting Scholars.  The Chair or Unit Director may email an exception request to the Director of OSP with a cc to the Dean.  A description of the funding opportunity must be included in the request as exceptions are considered on a grant-by-grant basis.  Additionally, the email must:

  • Identify the individual and confirm his/her status, such as visiting scholar or new faculty member who has accepted a position at the University but not yet arrived (include start date), or affiliate.
  • Confirm that the individual has the necessary experience and independence to compete successfully for the grant, contract, or cooperative agreement, and to administer the project should it be funded.
  • Specify whether the request is for the individual to serve as a sole PI or as a lead PI with a full-time UM faculty member as co-PI.  
  • Detail and guarantee lab space or other required resources.
  • Commit  the department to assume responsibility for the project should the individual's status change while PI.  

Upon receipt of the above information, the OSP Director will consult with the Vice President for Research. The requestor will be notified of the final determination within seven days.  Should an exception be approved, all PI  requirements - such as compliance, procedural, and responsibility and training expectations - must be met.  

Postdoctoral fellows and students generally are not eligible to serve as PI as they typically are not contractual employees.  However, certain external funding programs have as their purpose the support of graduate education or research through student-initiated projects.  For those programs, the following conditions apply:

  • A full-time faculty member must serve as Faculty Advisor.
  • The Faculty Advisor shall serve as Principal Investigator for institutional purposes (e.g., E-Prop).
  • The postdoctoral fellow or student shall be responsible for the intellectual conduct of the project within the oversight of the Faculty Advisor.
  • The proposal to the sponsor may name the postdoctoral fellow or student as Key Personnel, as long as the Faculty Advisor is named as the responsible individual unless that is prohibited by the sponsor’s guidelines.  In that case, the Faculty Advisor will be named on the UM Checklist and designated as the PI for internal UM purposes and will accept all associated responsibilities.
  • The proposal should acknowledge the student’s authorship of the proposal, as appropriate.

Principal Investigator Responsibilities

The status of PI is granted as a matter of privilege to employees of the University, and therefore certain procedures must be instituted to ensure that individuals granted such status clearly understand the University’s expectations in the fulfillment of such role.  Detailed responsibilities are outlined in “Roles and Responsibilities of the Principal Investigator on Sponsored Projects.” 

If a PI fails to perform the management functions required, the Administration may sanction the PI, including revoking their eligibility to serve as a PI, in accordance with the following excerpt from the Collective Bargaining Agreement between The UM University Faculty Association and the Montana University System (Sec. 12.210):

“If a project director or principal investigator fails to perform the requirements of a sponsored program or exceeds the approved budget, the matter shall be reviewed by the Administration. If the Administration determines that the failure resulted from the principal investigator's poor management or professional practices or his/her failure to adhere to University policies, the Administration may remove an individual as an authorized project director or principal investigator on any sponsored program and may refuse to permit any individual from serving in such a capacity on proposed sponsored programs.“

Principal Investigator Orientation/Training

A mandatory PI orientation program for individuals involved in sponsored programs is required by the Montana Board of Regents for Higher Education.  This orientation program at the University of Montana is coordinated by the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (OSP).  Sessions are offered several times a year.  All PIs and Co-PIs must complete an orientation session prior to submitting a proposal to external sponsors.