In the context of the potential "Emeritus Award" discussion, two of the points on interest were (1) an understanding of the situations of the senior investigators to whom such an award mechanism would be presumably targeted and (2) the fact that mechanisms already exist for transitioning labs to more junior faculty if that is desired. To get a look at one aspect of this, I examined active R01 grants in years 40 or larger. Of course, this is an atypical slice of this pie as many investigators, even if they have been continuously funded for decades, have not done so on individual grants that have been renewed.
I identified 62 active R01 grants in years 40-58. These were held by 59 investigators (three investigators each had two R01s on the list). Seven of the grants included co-PIs. The ages or year of degree could be identified for most investigators through internet searches. For 13 of the grants, it appeared that the grants had been transferred from another PI at some stage of its existence. In two cases, this appeared to be due to the death of the original PI. In seven cases, the point of transition could be identified and the original PI could be identified and all appear to be still alive. In these cases, the ages of the original PIs at the time of transition were estimated to range from 56 to 86 with a median of 74 while the ages of the PIs to which the grant was transferred were estimated to range from 42 to 65 with a median of 50. In the remaining four cases, the point of transition could not be identified, but the current PIs did not appear to be old enough to be the original PIs.
Overall, the ages of the current PIs for these grants are estimated to range from 49 to 93 with a median of 74. The ages at which the original PIs were awarded these grants were estimated to range from 24 to 40 with a median of 32.