Talking with Program Officers

I had some extra time this year. This is probably the last time in at least a decade that I will write that sentence, but this year I had a job offer that I deferred while finishing my post-doc, so pretty much anything I did during the year was bonus. I didn’t need to be doing anything in particular to get a job, and I wasn’t on the tenure track yet. It was glorious.

One of the things I did with my extra time was apply for a grant. I figured that it would not be funded the first time, but I would get feedback that would help me submit a better grant next time. Also, I thought that revising a grant would take less time than writing a new one, so I put the part that would take the most time into my deferral year and the part that I thought might be a little bit easier into my this-actually-counts-now-and-I-will-probably-be-very-crazed year.

As expected, I did not get the grant, and I did get useful thoughts from reviewers. I had heard or read somewhere that when your grants don’t get funded, you should call the PO and see if they have any additional feedback. So as soon as I saw that my grant didn’t get funded, I wrote to my PO to set up such a meeting.

Then the day of the phone meeting came, and I was a little nervous because I am not used to talking to POs. But it was actually straightforward and super useful, which is why I’m writing any of this in the first place. (Maybe someday other junior people will be reading this! And maybe they too will be scared of talking with POs! And then they will read about how un-scary it is and that will be useful!) My PO was very friendly, answered all my questions, and even threw in some affirmation at the end. I mean, most of our conversation was spent talking about how to make the grant better for the next submission. But she also mentioned that there was a lot of enthusiasm for my ideas (just not, you know, the way that I framed them or how I proposed to actually test them — not that those things matter for a grant, or anything) and that the panelists thought that I myself was accomplished and such. So that made me feel all warm and happy for the rest of the day.

The entire call was less than half an hour, and it gave me a much better sense of how I can improve my grant for the next round (or actually, the round after the next round … I don’t have so much free time that I can write a good revision in a few weeks). And I also got some good news about things the panelists liked. So overall that conversation was an excellent addition to my day.


Author: Happy Balloon

I am a new assistant professor in a STEM field at a research university. If you think you've figured out my actual name (which, sadly, is not Happy Balloon), please refrain from posting it anywhere here. But please do feel free to post all manner of other comments!