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Building Relationships with Program Officers

Federal agencies encourage Principal Investigators to contact their Program Officers! If you are considering an application to a federal sponsor, an email to the Program Officer (PO) will:

  • help you determine if your project is well-suited to the agency and program objectives;
  • give you the opportunity to ask questions and clarify agency and program goals; and
  • give the PO an opportunity to ask you questions that could enhance and focus your proposal.

The National Organization of Research Development Professionals (NORDP) has excellent resources for proposal development, including “Can We Talk? Contacting Grant Program Officers” by Robert Porter.

Do Your Homework

  • Determine the federal agencies and specific programs best suited to your research interests.
  • Review sponsor resources to determine funding priorities and initiatives: strategic plans, white papers, recent funding history, annual federal budget, and reports from symposia and workshops.

Make Contact

  • Start with a brief email to the PO to begin a conversation.
  • Provide key information about your proposal in a single paragraph. A white paper or draft proposal is not necessary for the PO to assess your project’s fit with their program.
  • Ask direct and concise questions.
  • Request a follow-up phone call to discuss any issues raised by the PO.

Request a Visit

  • Email PO with the following information, at least a month prior to your planned visit:
    • abstract/project summary (1 page) or white paper (2-3 pages);
    • brief biographical sketch (1 page)—include a representative list of peer-reviewed publications relevant to your project;
    • request for a phone call; and
    • dates you will be in Washington if a trip is already planned.
  • It is more likely you will be able to schedule a phone call rather than a meeting. However, if you already have a trip planned, POs often will try to accommodate you.
  • If you are able to schedule visits with multiple agencies, plan for at least 90 minutes between appointments to allow for travel time, appointment delays, and conversations that go longer than anticipated.

The Meeting & Follow-UP

  • Be prepared to provide a concise description (no more than 15 minutes) of your research interests and strengths. You will not need to reiterate the information in your abstract or white paper.
  • Allow the PO ample time and opportunity to comment on your research and explain their program. The most valuable outcome of the conversation will be their feedback and ideas.
  • Respond positively to any offers to serve on review panels, committees, or task forces. These are important outcomes of your visit.
  • Exchange business cards.
  • Send a thank you note.
  • Continue to communicate with interested POs as appropriate.

Thanks to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Office of Research & Economic Development for permission to share their guidance.