In the current research landscape, there are increasing demands for research to be innovative and cutting-edge. At the same time, concerns are voiced that as a consequence of neoliberal regimes of research governance, innovative research becomes impeded. In this paper, I suggest that to gain a better understanding of these dynamics, it is indispensable to scrutinise current demands for innovativeness as a distinct way of ascribing worth to research. Drawing on interviews and focus groups produced in a close collaboration with three research groups from the crop and soil sciences, I develop the notion of a project-innovation regime of valuation that can be traced in the sphere of research. In this evaluative framework, it is considered valuable to constantly re-invent oneself and take ‘first steps’ instead of ‘just’ following up on previous findings. Subsequently, I describe how these demands for innovativeness relate to and often clash with other regimes of valuation that matter for researchers’ practices. I show that valuations of innovativeness are in many ways bound to those of productivity and competitiveness, but that these two regimes are nevertheless sometimes in tension with each other, creating a complicated double bind for researchers. Moreover, I highlight that also the project-innovation regime as such is not always in line with what researchers considered as a valuable progress of knowledge, especially because it entails a de-valuation of certain kinds of long-term epistemic agendas. I show that prevailing pushes for innovativeness seem to be based on a rather short-sighted temporal imaginary of scientific progress that is hardly grounded in the complex realities of research practices, and that they can reshape epistemic practices in potentially problematic ways.