Program Officials (POs) in the NIH institutes/centers (ICs) serve as your scientific and programmatic contacts.
Among their many responsibilities, POs develop research and research training initiatives, write funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) to solicit applications in support of those initiatives, manage a scientific portfolio, and monitor grant progress. Many of them were even in your shoes prior to joining NIH and have first-hand knowledge of the challenges you may be facing. So, who better to provide guidance to investigators pre- and post-award?
What POs Can and Can’t Do
Although they can answer many questions, it is important to understand what a PO can and can’t do for you.
What POs Can Do
- Provide feedback on the fit of your proposed work with the mission and scientific priorities of the IC
- Provide feedback on suitability of your proposed work for a specific FOA
- Clarify program requirements
- Clarify administrative policies
- Provide general tips/strategies on writing strong applications
- Suggest resources that might help you in preparing a strong application
What POs Can’t Do
- Co-write or rewrite any portion of an application
- Propose copy edits to your proposal
- Provide specific edits to specific aims or research plan
- Recommend specific advice on experimental design
- Share information that is not a part of the FOA or is not in the public domain
Identifying the correct PO
The steps for identifying a program official to reach out to vary based on your stage in the grants process.
- When exploring NIH …Use our Matchmaker tool in RePORTER to find NIH funded grants on topics related to yours. A Program Official tab identifies the program officials associated with the matched projects. You can filter the results by IC and activity code and look at each PO and their portfolio to identify a good fit.
- After finding an opportunity …Find program staff listed in the funding opportunity announcement contact section under scientific/research contacts.
- After application submission or award …Look in the contact section of the application/grant’s eRA Commons status screen for the assigned program staff contact.
Tips for Reaching Out
Once you’ve identified a program official, follow these tips for a successful interaction.
- Use email to initiate the connection
- Be specific
- Use the subject line to convey your main “ask”
- Provide grant number, opportunity number, mechanism or other available details
- Explain why you are reaching out and give enough context for the PO to be prepared for a meaningful discussion
- Be prepared yourself – do your homework and check online resources
- Don’t wait until the last minute
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions – no one will think less of you for not knowing the answer
Program officials are a tremendous resource. They are here to help.