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Be Prepared

According to Michael Spires, grant-seeking scientists ought not to cold-call their program officers, ring them up for the sake of small talk, or otherwise pester them. "All of that sounds like I'm discouraging researchers from calling. I'm not. I'm just encouraging you to call for the right reasons," says Spires at The Chronicle of Higher Education. So, why, when, and how should investigators contact their POs?

First, he says, it's important to seek answers elsewhere. "Check the agency's or program's Web site, review the applicable guidelines, or contact your institution's sponsored-research office," Spires says. "You'll also demonstrate that you've done your due diligence." He also suggests initiating contact by e-mail, so that the PO has a chance to "respond at their convenience, rather than trying to understand your question, give a response, and still get you off the phone in time for them to make a panel-review meeting or a pressing appointment with the director."

It's critical, Spires says, that researchers be as specific as possible in their requests. "Narrow the focus of the question or issue that you need resolved," he says, adding that "that becomes critical the closer you are to a program deadline."

Finally, "in today's competitive grant environment, even a little misstep can have large consequences," Spires says, so it's best to ask questions. While POs inevitably need to say 'No' from time to time, investigators can follow-up with something along the lines of "Is there a way to move to 'yes' here?" Spires says. By following this advice, he adds, "you'll then be well on your way to developing a good working relationship with your program officers, and enhancing your chances of getting your proposals approved."