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'Perspectives of a Program Officer'

In a perspective piece appearing in this month's Molecular Biology of the Cell, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences' Marion Zatz discusses the rewards and challenges of her 27-year career as a program officer. "In the face of record deficits and shrinking National Institutes of Health budgets, one might wonder why a sane person would choose a career in government service," Zatz says. But, as budgets shrink, the already tough funding decisions will become tougher — which is why the "job of a PO will become more important than ever in helping to sustain the enthusiasm and progress of the research and training enterprise," she adds. In her paper, Zatz examines the PO's role in federal funding decisions and in the process of peer review — including "providing advice to applicants and grantees, making funding recommendations, overseeing grantees' progress, facilitating scientific opportunities in specific areas of program responsibility and shaping … policy," she says, adding that "one of the most gratifying activities … is identifying an emerging area of science and fostering its development." Generally speaking, Zatz considers herself "a social worker for scientists." She adds that, "like many of my colleagues at the NIH, I came to this position following a career as an independent research scientist." Among other things, Zatz says prospective POs must have excellent organizational skills, a knack for written and verbal communication, and a collaborative spirit. In the end, though, "I believe the most important qualification for the job is a love and appreciation of good science," she says.

HT: Zatz at the NIGMS Feedback Loop

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