What is a Principal Investigator?

If you have a passion for science and an unending fascination for research, then you may want to think of becoming a principal investigator.

Principal investigators (PIs) are head researchers who receive grant funding for conducting a well-defined project in a certain scientific field. At the highest level of academia, principal investigators serve as leaders in supervising every aspect of:

  • laboratory studies
  • clinical trials
  • other kinds of research

All professionals who are given PI status must be prepared to handle a variety of roles and responsibilities for a smooth investigative process. In this article, we’ll take a deeper look into how principal investigators lead cutting-edge scientific discoveries.

What Principal Investigators Do

Principal investigators make all final decisions on their funded research and report directly to their funding agency on progresses made. In most cases, the PI is the researcher who initially conceived the scientific hypothesis. Sometimes principal investigators are appointed for more strategic leadership. Principal investigators will likely:

  • apply for their funding
  • hire research associates
  • draft the research proposal
  • supervise assistants carrying out the experiments
  • set deadlines
  • establish a budgeting plan
  • maintain lab safety
  • draw conclusions from their results

Most principal investigators will finish the project by publishing their findings in a reputable journal or magazine to expand our scientific knowledge.

Where Principal Investigators Research

Virtually every academic area that benefits from research will have principal investigators working hard to unearth new helpful tidbits of information. PIs are most numerous in heavily research-oriented fields, such as:

  • medicine
  • psychology
  • biology
  • chemistry
  • sociology
  • anthropology

They can also work in the liberal arts. Principal investigators usually work at colleges and universities where they also teach post-secondary courses. That being said, principal investigators can also conduct their studies for:

  • research firms
  • government agencies
  • pharmaceutical companies
  • private corporations
  • hospitals, manufacturers
  • non-profit organizations

A PI will spend most of his or her day working in the laboratory to:

  • study data reports
  • supervise staff
  • keep a safe research environment

See also: What is a Health Analyst?

How to Become a Principal Investigator

Being the PI on a funded research project is an honor that will require plenty of preparation. In fact, attending an accredited graduate school to earn a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or a similar research degree is basically required. Principal investigators usually major in the life and physical sciences, but having a major specifically related to your research interests is vital. Your doctoral degree will include valuable research experience in completing an original dissertation project.

It’s likely you’ll need to continue with a post-doctoral fellowship, get a job as a research assistant, or become a faculty member to your way up. For faster advancement in leading clinical trials, consider receiving the CPI credential from the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP).

Overall, principal investigators play a prominent role in the research world by designing, monitoring, supervising, and accepting responsibility for scientific studies. On large projects, they may have a Co-PI to make sure all applicable institutional policies are met. PIs use their extensive background in research to pioneer new findings that could potentially improve our daily routine or even save lives. Although the road to become a principal investigator is long and often challenging, this coveted role is both financially and intrinsically rewarding for science lovers.

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