Guide for Investigators: Contacting the Program Officer
A Program Officer (PO) is your point of contact for your proposal submission, so it is important to know when and how to contact them.
What a PO Does
Please note that this advice is designed for contacting program officers at federal agencies. Please contact Corporate & Foundation Relations when applying to foundation or other private opportunities.
A program officer is your point of contact for understanding the organization’s response to your submission. POs manage a “portfolio” of grants, and they are rewarded for having a set of very solid grants – they want your grant submission to be good! The following advice is based on NIH, but much is applicable to other funders.
When you should contact a PO
At the start of the research proposal:
- To decide if your research idea is in line with the priorities of the program or agency, or if another division – or a tweak to your current plan – would fit better.
- To gauge the level of enthusiasm this particular agency has for your proposed area of research – particularly if you have multiple agencies (or NIH I/Cs) that you could submit to.
- When a major question of suitability or fit arises (e.g., if a division doesn’t deal with clinical studies; if a certain form of analysis is welcome).
- To discover if a particular foundation is interested in your proposal.
During the writing of your proposal when you have questions about:
- Specific agency policies such as Data Sharing, human subjects, etc.
- Grant award specifics, such as possible award minimum/maximums, whether or not a particular budget item can be funded, etc.
- Which study section to request when submitting your cover letter.
When you receive your score or reviews:
- The PO can help you interpret critiques, provide guidance on when to resubmit, what to focus on and, if he/she was present at the study section, provide additional input into reviewers’ responses.
What to prepare before contacting a PO
- Check the agency or program’s website and all available documents for answers to your questions, as well as the RFA.
- Your question may not be answered there, but you can frame your question in terms of what information is already available.
- Prepare one or at most a few clear, succinct, relevant questions that are in the PO’s purview.
- Prepare a 1-page research summary (specific aims page works well) and include it in the body of your email, along with a specific question about your project or a request to discuss whether it is a good fit for the program. (The GWSW workbook suggests “maximize the programmatic relevance.”)
- Assume a technically literate reader but not necessarily well-versed in your specific area.
- Keep it focused, draw clear, explicit connections to significance and innovation, and make clear the expected outcomes and deliverables.
How to contact a PO
- Email first! This gives the PO a chance to get back to you on his/her own time.
- Introduce yourself and your project, with specific, focused information and questions that show that you’ve done your due diligence with publically available materials.
- Make sure that your inquiry makes it clear why you are asking, what information you hope to get from the PO, and what your deadline is.
- Give them ample time pre-deadline to respond, and expect delays in response right after an RFA comes out or just before a deadline.
- Make sure that you’ve examined their online documents and that you know the PO’s name.
More information on PO’s and policies
Last updated: July 2018 Source: Office of Research Development (ORD), Tufts University