Contacting a Program Officer

We want to hear from you! NSF Program Officers (POs) are here to answer your questions, and listen to your ideas.

The role of a PO includes aspects of being a liaison, translator, customer service representative, coach, advisor, and interpreter all rolled into one. Yes, POs are representing the agency, but they are also scientists—some very recently in academia—and they know what it’s like to be on the other side of the desk.

For those of you who are hesitant, here’s a short guide on why and how to contact a PO.

Why should I contact a NSF Program Officer?

It’s easiest to answer that question with more questions;

  • Is it about a RAPID, RAISE, EAGER, ROA, RCN, CNH, or workshop? For these types of proposals, we encourage PIs to get in touch with a PO. Doing so will give you a better sense of what NSF is looking for in those types of proposals.
  • Did a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) explicitly tell you to? Look for the contact information in the letter and email that PO.
  • Are you curious about which DEB cluster is most appropriate for your proposal? If you’re not sure, don’t waste your time guessing! A PO can help you determine where it belongs in the Division or beyond.
  • Are you curious why a proposal didn’t get funded? POs can help you unpack and explain a decision, and discuss how to move forward.

How do I contact a NSF Program Officer?

Most POs agree that the best way to start a conversation is to email them first and set up a time to talk on the phone. Please don’t travel to NSF just to meet with POs; it’s not very productive. Save money and time, and lessen your environmental footprint by using the phone or Skype.

In your initial email, include a paragraph or short summary of what you want to discuss. Do not send all or part of a proposal you want to submit. A summary only, please. If you want to discuss a project you already submitted or have questions about the reviews you received, include the project ID number so the PO can prepare in advance.

How do I know which DEB Program Officer to email?

Except in one situation (see below), it really doesn’t matter. Each of our POs will be able to answer your question(s). However, if you’re interested in exploring a specific field of research, it might be useful to pick a PO whose own research background is most closely aligned with your research question. Start by reading the cluster descriptions for each of the core programs and do a quick Google search to see who best matches your interests. Please do not email all the POs in a cluster, or multiple POs across the Division. Please pick one PO and wait for them to get back to you. And please check your spam folder.

When it does matter which PO to contact is when you want to discuss a specific proposal. In that case, you should contact the PO who is listed on Fastlane as managing that proposal. He/she will know about your proposal and understand what happened to it.

Is it OK to reach out again if I’m confused or think of more questions?

Absolutely! If something wasn’t clear, reach out again through email to set up another time to talk. It is not uncommon.

When should I NOT contact a NSF Program Officer?

Make sure the information you need isn’t already available on our website, our blog, in the PAPPG, solicitation, or DCL. If you are asking something about a currently funded proposal, be sure to look in the Award Terms & Conditions for guidance before contacting a PO. And before you fire off that email or pick up the phone if your proposal is declined, please give yourself some time to digest and reflect on the reviews before you contact a PO with questions.

Talk to you soon!