The University of Arizona

Contacting Program Officers

On this page:

Why Contact a Program Officer?
The Don’ts and Dos
How to Build Relationships
Questions for POs
When to Contact
Where to Locate
Additional Tips
Related Resources

Why Contact a Program Officer?

The Program Officer (PO):

  • Has intimate knowledge of his/her research portfolio/program balance and funding priorities
    • Portfolio saturation/poor fit with funding priorities are the top reasons logical, well-written proposals are rejected
    • Even proposals that receive favorable reviews can go unfunded!
    • Solicitations are often the “official line” and might not reflect underlying considerations that aid the success of the proposal
    • Program priorities can shift over time, sometimes substantially, while published materials (e.g., solicitations) remain unchanged
  • Can advise on the Specific Aims/Objectives and fit with the proposed solicitation/portfolio
    • Guidance on reshaping the Aims/Objectives or Approach can help avoid triage/rejection
  • Maybe in a position to advocate for your proposal during the review process
  • Is aware of upcoming funding opportunities that might fit the proposed research better than the currently identified mechanism
  • Can direct the PI to other Institutes/Centers/Programs that might be more enthusiastic

When a sponsor does not publish funding solicitations, which is the case with some Foundations, the PO is the primary source of information on funding programs and priorities. Relationships with many Foundations are managed by Associates at UA Foundation. Inquire with RDS to determine who to approach at UA Foundation.

The Don’ts and Dos

  • Never cold call a PO
  • Never call a PO to “chat” about research
  • Do not ask questions that are “answered” in the solicitation (i.e., read the solicitation carefully)
  • Do not badger or contact POs repeatedly; if you don’t hear back from an initial e-mail request, wait two weeks and try again. If you still don’t hear back, try reaching out to another PO.

How to Build Relationships

  • Research which Institute/Center/Program best aligns with the proposed research
    • Research recently funded proposals, if available, and gauge fit
  • Draft an abstract/summary of the proposed project that includes the objectives, methods, and expected outcomes (The Elevator Pitch)
    • Innovation and potential contributions to the field should be stressed
  • Send an email to the PO that includes the brief abstract
    • Ask about fit with the Institute/Center/Program
    • Include a reference to the solicitation
  • Schedule a phone call with the PO at their earliest convenience
    • Read the solicitation carefully and have specific questions
    • Develop responses to any issues raised by the PO in the initial email
  • Take a long-term (strategic, not transactional) approach to seek funding
    • Communicate honestly and openly
  • See the PO as a partner, not only as a funder
    • View your proposal as helping the PO to establish a robust portfolio

Questions for POs

  • Does the proposed research align with the PO’s and the program’s current priorities?
    • Do the homework and be knowledgeable of the broad priority areas
  • What could be modified to improve the chances of success?
  • Is the proposed solicitation an appropriate mechanism for the proposed research?
    • This is a good way to “discover” underlying considerations
  • Appropriateness of specific study sections (NIH only)
  • How will the proposal be reviewed, e.g. ad-hoc only, panel, etc.
  • Is there a general rule of thumb regarding preliminary data?
    • For NIH: Should the preliminary data be included in the Significance or the Approach section? 

When to Contact

Initial Submission

Resubmission

BEFORE the proposal is developed
  • The earlier the better
  • Don’t waste time developing a proposal that does not fit the program

NEVER after the proposal has been submitted to discuss content of a proposal under review, wait until you’ve received your reviews

At least 1-week after receiving the Summary Statement.
  • Take the time to digest the comments and to develop a draft strategy for responding to the reviewer comments
  • Develop a targeted list of questions

 

Where to Locate

NSF

Directorate
  • Programs
    • Listed by Division
      • Under Cluster/ Additional Funding Opportunities
        • Contacts

NIH

Listed in section seven of a funding opportunity announcement (FOA). Listed on the IC-Specific Scientific Interests and Contact website for each FOA.

       Institute or Center websites

NEH

Divisions and Offices
  • Programs
    • Programs Staff

NASA

Mission Directorate (The Science Mission Directorate publishes a list of POs)
  • For Researchers/Solicitations
    • Listed as Point of Contact in each solicitation

Additional Tips

  • Although often advised, do not ask questions about pay lines or success rates – especially to federal funders – the POs likely don’t know given the current funding climate so any answer will be speculative
  • Be responsive to the advice that is delivered
    • A sure way to get rejected is to submit the proposal the PO suggested may not be relevant to their program
  • DO NOT ask for the names of the reviewers or speculate on the reviewers based on the study section roster (NIH)
  • Do not criticize reviewer comments 

Related Resources

A view from the NIH bridge: perspectives of a program officer, by Marion Zatz, Molecular Biology of the Cell, Volume 22, Issue 15 (2011)

Can we Talk? Contacting Grant Program Officers, by Robert Porter, Research Management Review, Volume 17, Issue 1 (2009)

What to Say–and Not Say–to Program Officers, by Michael J. Spires, The Chronicle of Higher Education (2012)

NASA Science Mission Directorate List of Program Officers

NIAID: Get a Speedy Response From Your Program Officer