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Soliciting Help From NIH Program Staff

What is a Program Official or Project Officer?

Each NIH institute has a team of Program Officials or Project Officers (POs) with expertise in different areas of science who keep up with new research in their field. POs are expected to develop national programs of research in their assigned areas of expertise.

How Can a PO Help You?

A PO is a very valuable resource to new and minority researchers and to researchers who may qualify for special initiatives. They are particularly good at discussing the following:

  • Talking Science

  • You can expect that a PO knows his or her field fairly well and that he or she is aware of major research trends and gaps in knowledge in the field. PO's can talk to you about how researchers can help the Institute promote its mission, as well as define for you what topics are current research priorities.

    But if you want to “talk science,” prepare yourself first. Do a literature review so that you understand the general research trends in the field. Your conversation will be much more productive if you have a specific idea for a research project or have some research questions you would like to answer. At that point, your PO can help you sort through the following issues:

  • NIH Policy, Procedure, and Other Confusing Matters

  • What is the best way for me to get money to do this research? Which institute (there are 25 at NIH) would likely fund this type of research? Is this even something the NIH is interested in, or would another governmental agency, like the CDC, be better suited for this type of research? These are important questions, and if you are having trouble answering them yourself, ask a PO.

    A PO can also give you some guidance about the different types of funding mechanisms used in the institute and which ones are suitable for someone with your experience and background. Also, if you are interested in responding to a particular Program Announcement or RFA, the PO assigned to that area can talk to you about the types of projects the Institute is interested in funding under that announcement.


  • Talking About Your Specific Proposal

  • Once you have come up with research aims, hypotheses, and a general idea of how you want to proceed with your data collection, you can draft a concept paper and request that your PO provide feedback to you. Your PO can provide guidance on the following types of items: the clarity and focus of specific aims and hypotheses, fundamental problems with your research questions or experimental design, and the overall clarity and feasibility of the proposed project. If you start the application process early enough, your PO may also agree to review the final draft of your proposal prior to submission. However, remember that POs are not peer reviewers. It is still in your best interest to have colleagues read your proposal, even if the PO agrees to review it.

  • Advocating For You As a Researcher

  • A PO is in a unique position to advocate for researchers. A PO may (1) help you determine which grant review study section is most appropriate to review your grant; or (2) suggest study section members if there is no one with the necessary expertise to review your grant.

    A PO will frequently sit in on the review of your grant, although POs are not permitted to participate or speak. After you receive your review comments, your PO can help you interpret them, and if necessary, may provide guidance in incorporating these review comments into your revised application (if your proposal is not funded on the first submission).

Help for Minority Researchers

The National Institutes of Health offer numerous programs designed specifically to fund minority researchers and minority institutions, and contacting a PO is a good first step in learning about these opportunities. POs might also be knowledgeable about outreach efforts into the minority research community (for example, mentoring sessions or special seminars).

If you work in an institution with limited resources, your PO can advise you on the inclusion of necessary equipment (such as computers) in your budget proposal. If you are interested in training with a more experienced researcher, your PO can help you locate funded researchers interested in collaborating under a minority supplement. You can also go to the mentoring section of this site for assistance.

How Do You Find a PO Who Can Help You?

Internet Links for NIH Program Staff


A PO can be a wonderful resource to minority, new, and experienced researchers. As competition for grants increases, a PO can serve as a liaison between a researcher and the NIH. However, POs can only assist you if you CALL THEM FIRST—they will not come to you. So, how do you locate a PO who can help you? Follow these three simple steps.

Step 1: Identify the type of research you are interested in pursuing.

Step 2: Identify the Institute whose mission most closely matches your research interests.

Step 3: Call the contact names provided on the Web sites of the Institutes or from other materials you may have. Otherwise, call the director's office of the Institute for help locating the appropriate individual.

Click here for a list of Institute staff contacts.



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Last updated: August 12, 2003.