Interacting with Program Officers, Part One
Developing relationships with program officers is extremely important. It is the key to success for both established and early-career faculty. Not only does it raise the profile of Texas Tech at the federal agencies but it also increases program officer knowledge of faculty expertise. Agencies need scientists to serve on review panels and working groups and to keep the agency current on research. Program officers can't be as helpful if they don't know you. Relationships with program officers can result in gaining access to information you might not otherwise receive. Program officers may share information about initiatives and opportunities before they hit the street.
How do you know which program officer to contact? You can:
- Review sponsor websites, directorate/program webpages, and abstracts of funded projects.
- Review solicitations in which you are interested.
- And ask colleagues for recommendations of sponsors, programs, and/or program officers to contact.
There are two ways to connect with the program officer:
- You can send an e-mail with a 2-page concept paper attached and request to schedule a phone call.
- Or you can send an e-mail with a 2-page concept paper attached and request to schedule an in-person visit.
Never cold call a program officer! There are methods to developing a first-rate concept paper. We have some tips in our video series – Why Wait for the RFP?
You know you should always prepare ahead of time for your conversation – but be prepared for an immediate conversation. You might not receive a response for a week, but you might receive an immediate response saying – "I'm free now." If the program officer doesn't respond within a week or two, consider reaching out to a different program officer within the same division or branch.
Once you're on the phone call or at the in-person visit:
- Listen closely to the program officer.
- Anticipate that a half-hour meeting could go longer if a program officer is enthusiastic about the idea.
- Do not be surprised if other program officers are invited to join the conversation.
- If you are meeting in person, pay attention to body language.
After your meeting, follow-up with a short thank you note to keep the lines of communication open and summarize the key points of your conversation.