Do’s and Don’ts

Program Officers manage an agency’s grant portfolio and therefore have a vested interest in helping researchers submit competitive research proposals. To help investigators nurture more productive, lasting Program Officer relationships, we compiled a list of Do’s and Don’ts. 

Cold call a Program Officer. Program Officers are busy people. They want to feel prepared to speak with you and do not generally like being caught off guard. Unless you have a well-established relationship with a Program Officer, avoid cold calls.Send emails to request a telephone call. An email request shows that you respect the Program Officer’s time. It is acceptable to attach a concept paper to the email.
Wait until the last minute. If you would like to discuss a specific funding announcement, do not wait until you have a draft proposal to contact the Program Officer.Contact the Program Officer at the concept development stage. Because Program Officers play a key role developing an agency’s grant portfolio, they have a vested interest in guiding you toward appropriate funding opportunities. Consider developing a 1-2 page concept paper to introduce your project.
Ask questions that are easily answered by reviewing the program guidelines. If you need clarification on funding guidelines, first seek answers from research administrators at your institution. Be deliberate with the questions you ask. Demonstrate that you have taken the time to review the program guidelines and present questions that focus on the big picture. Program Officers are scientists, but may not have the same area of expertise as you. Do not bury them in too much detail.
Stop communicating with a Program Officer if your proposal is not funded. This is particularly true if the Program Officer manages several funding mechanisms within your preferred NIH institute. He/she may be able to guide you toward other funding mechanisms best suited for your project.Call a Program Officer to discuss your summary statement, particularly if you are considering a resubmission. Many Program Officers attend peer review meetings and can provide critical feedback to inform your resubmission strategy.
Reach out to a private foundation without determining if a larger, institutional relationship exists between the foundation and Penn State. Penn State University maintains relationships with a multitude of private foundations and assigns relationship managers to maintain working relationships with senior foundation officials. If you are considering a grant opportunity with a foundation, first determine if your institution has an established working relationship with the foundation. To determine the best approach first contact Research Development.
Limit yourself. Building a successful research career relies not only on good science, but good communication skills. Do not miss out on opportunities to network with program officials, particularly those affiliated with funding agencies, institutes, or centers that have research missions closely aligned with your work.Take advantage of networking opportunities. Make time in your schedule (and budget) to attend scientific meetings and utilize these opportunities to network with program officials and individuals that sit on key study sections.

The following articles provide insight into the Program Officer relationship and can be helpful if you are new to research or seeking fresh perspective.

What to Say – and Not Say – to Program Officers  
Spires, Michael. What to Say – and Not Say – to Program Officers. The Chronicle of Higher Education. March 2012. 
A view from the NIH bridge: perspectives of a program officer
Zatz, Marion. A view from the NIH bridge: perspectives of a program officer. Molecular Biology of the Cell. August 2011; 22(15) 2661-2663.
Can We Talk?
Porter, Robert. Can We Talk? Contacting Program Officers. Research Management Review. Fall/Winter 2009; 17(1) 1-8.
How to Develop a Beneficial Dialogue with a Program Officer
Principal Investigators Association
Soliciting Help from NIH Program Staff
The Research Assistant 3-1.asp