From Nebraska to DC: Program officer visits build relationships

News for Researchers

Posted March 31, 2017 by Ashley Washburn

Networking with program officers in Washington, D.C., is an excellent way to obtain firsthand information about agency priorities and funding opportunities, get advice on grantsmanship and be invited to serve on review panels. However, these visits, especially the first one, can be daunting.

“The Office of Research and Economic Development routinely organizes visits to Washington to help Nebraska’s faculty develop these important relationships,” said Tisha Mullen, director of proposal development.

“Visiting with program officers helps faculty better understand the grants process and demystifies how proposals are reviewed,” Mullen said. “All UNL faculty are welcome to request travel support to join a trip, and we think the activity is so important that it is built into the Research Development Fellows Program.”

During the university’s spring break, Mullen and ORED colleagues Deb Hamernik, interim associate vice chancellor for research; Nathan Meier, assistant vice chancellor for research; and Matthew Dwyer, proposal development specialist, accompanied 12 early career faculty on program officer visits.

These faculty, from nine different departments, visited program officers at the U.S. Department of Education, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

They received guidance from program officers on individual research projects and agency-specific advice on obtaining grants. Program officers also explained the proposal review processes at their agencies, upcoming changes to their program priorities and the importance of focusing proposals around a funder’s core mission.

To support faculty making these visits, Mullen and her colleagues coach researchers on developing concept papers and biographical sketches, setting up appointments and crafting discussion points for their meetings to maximize the experience.

“Faculty are in D.C. to shop their research ideas around to find the right sponsor for their work, so we often encourage them to begin a discussion around how their idea might best fit with a program officer’s portfolio,” Mullen said.

The upcoming issues of Research News will feature interviews with Nebraska faculty who participated in the spring trip. Visit Faculty Travel Awards to request funds to help defray the costs of travel to visit funding agencies. For more information about resources available to faculty to support sponsor engagement and proposal development, contact Mullen at 402-472-2894.

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