Contacting a Program Officer

Your questions and ideas matter, and NSF Program Officers (POs) are here to help. The PO’s role, while primarily a scientific one, also includes being a liaison, translator, customer service representative, coach, advisor, and interpreter for all things NSF. 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 in your shoes.

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

Why should I contact an NSF Program Officer?

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

  • Is it about a RAPID, RAISE, EAGER, ROA, RCN, or workshop? For these types of proposals, communicating with a PO will give you a better sense of what NSF is looking for. For some of these types of proposals, written permission from a PO is required to submit, so this communication is essential.
  • Did a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) explicitly tell you to? Look for the contact information in the letter and email that PO.  Please don’t send separate emails to each PO listed in the DCL. Pick one and copy the others.
  • Are you curious about which DEB cluster or program 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 then discuss how to move forward.

How do I contact an NSF Program Officer?

The best way to start a conversation is to email a PO and set up a time to talk on the phone, or via Zoom. (It’s best not to cold call.) In your email, include a paragraph or short summary of what you want to discuss. 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. In-person meetings with POs are generally quite difficult to arrange due to time constraints and physical security of the NSF building.

How do I know which DEB Program Officer to email?

All DEB POs will be able to answer your general question(s). However, if you’re interested in exploring a specific field of research, it’s best 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. They will help point you to the right person if they cannot help.  And please check your spam folder.

If you want to discuss a proposal you submitted, you should contact the PO who is listed on Research.gov as managing that proposal. They 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.

If my proposal is funded, should I stay in contact with a Program Officer?

Yes! In addition to alerting your PO about any issues and submitting your required reports, let your managing PO know about any paper submissions, acceptances, or novel broader impact outcomes. POs want to hear about your successes and can share with others at NSF who may help promote them.

When should I NOT contact an NSF Program Officer?

Before you fire off that email or pick up the phone after having a proposal declined, please give yourself some time (at least a week or two) to digest and reflect on the reviews – then contact a PO with questions. Talk to you soon!

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