NSF Offers 5 Tips on How to Work with a Program Officer

Excerpted from NSF Science Matters blog February 23, 2021 by Vincent Tedjasaputra, PhD

Whatever the phase of your research career, it is a good idea to reach out to a National Science Foundation (NSF) program officer as the first step in the NSF application process. Program officers are researchers — experts from the research community who guide grant proposals through Merit Review, part of the process that determines if a proposal is funded. Don’t be intimidated to reach out to a program officer. The myth that reaching out might hinder your chances couldn’t be further from the truth. Here are five tips from NSF program officers to help you work with them:

  1. Do your homework.

If you don’t know or have a program officer, you can search the NSF funding website using keywords or click through the research areas. Read through relevant policies and solicitations, and search through the NSF awards database for recent awards made. If your research idea spans multiple disciplines, you may explore NSF’s interdisciplinary research opportunities. 

  1. Reach out as early as possible.

Program officers can provide general advice on writing proposals and tell you if your idea is a good fit. They can also tell you how proposals are evaluated, information that can be helpful as you develop your proposal. If your idea doesn’t align with that particular program, program officers can point you toward other contacts and programs that may be a better fit. 

  1. Continue to stay in contact with your program officer.

Regardless of whether your proposal is selected for funding, you should continue to stay in contact with your program officer in the post-review process. 

  1. Please be patient.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a reply initially, and try reaching out again later. 

  1. Recognize that there are limits to what program officers can do.

Program officers are charged with directing fair and equitable Merit Review, so there is a limit to the information they can share. Certain questions regarding budgets can only be answered by your sponsored program office. Program officers also cannot edit your proposal, suggest which topic you should choose, or explain how to design your study.

For more details about each item, see the full article NSF 101: 5 Tips on How to Work with an NSF Program Officer.