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We don’t bite! Communicating with your program officer

Damali Martin
Damali MARTIN,
Program Director,
Division of Neuroscience (DN)
Amelia Karraker
Program Official,
Division of Behavioral and Social Research (DBSR)

If the thought of contacting a program officer (PO) seems unnerving to you, then you are not alone! Many investigators, especially those in the early stages of their career, are hesitant to contact a PO to seek advice or guidance. However, connecting with you is one of the most important and enjoyable parts of our job. Here are some tips that will help make your interactions with us smooth and productive.

What do NIA program officers do?

Program officers at NIA (who are sometimes referenced as health science administrators, or HSAs) implement and manage science and public health programs aimed at improving the health of older adults in the United States and globally. Our mission is to:

  • Foster creative and innovative discoveries.
  • Stay on top of state-of-the-art science in our portfolio areas.
  • Identify research gaps.
  • Develop sustainable research resources that benefit the entire research community.
  • Promote the highest level of scientific integrity” while serving as stewards of taxpayers’ dollars.

Our role requires us to foster trusting relationships with scientific communities and the public. We can’t do our jobs without you!

When should you contact a PO?

Many answers to your questions about NIA grantmaking are available online. However, if you can’t find an answer to your question, we are here to help! Investigators often seek information on grants policies and procedures, administrative management, and scientific progress of their awards. POs can also help if you need broad feedback or advice on finding appropriate funding opportunities and activity codes, submitting a large budget application ($500K or more in direct cost per year), discussing your summary statement once it is released, post-award updates, and ideas for supplemental funding to existing awards.

One of the best times for investigators to contact a PO is when they are thinking about applying for funding. Researchers and trainees should develop their ideas on paper in the form of a Specific Aims page. That will give us the information we need to help put you on a path to a successful application for funding.

Find the right PO for you!

It is important to connect with a PO who will understand your research area. Visit NIA’s staff listing or the appropriate NIA research division to learn more about each PO and find your best contact. Sometimes, POs serve as scientific contacts for funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) supported by NIA or other NIH Institutes and Centers. If you are interested in a specific FOA, you should speak to the PO listed in the Scientific Contacts section to learn whether your idea is a good fit for the opportunity. NIH matchmaker is also an excellent resource for investigators who may not have an assigned PO.

Preparing to speak to your PO

So, have you found “the one” and cannot wait to impress him or her with your knowledge and ideas? Here are a few tips to consider ahead of your conversation:

  1. If you are preparing an initial application, provide a Specific Aims page, including the scientific gap(s) to be addressed, data and methods, and hypotheses. You can also include information about the potential public health impact of your work.
  2. Try not to “cold call” your PO, who is usually extremely busy and often working around tight deadlines. The PO may not be able to devote the time that your research or inquiry deserves. Emailing to request a scheduled time to discuss your inquiry is the best way to go!
  3. Discuss your research within the context of NIA’s mission and how your research will advance the field.

In short, please do not hesitate to contact us! We look forward to supporting you as we all work to advance biomedical aging research and improve the health of our nation.


Submitted by Subodh Kumar on May 13, 2021

This is extremely valuable information. Young and early-stage investigators, in particular, seek advice on grant planning, appropriate research sections, and PO.

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