Conversations with Program Officers

Conversations with Program Officers:
a pilot initiative of the UM Office of Research and Sponsored Programs

Summary: ORSP is piloting an initiative to facilitate face-to-face visits or phone conversations with program officers and other officials who make or influence funding priorities and decisions at agencies/sponsors.  Through this initiative, ORSP seeks to:

  • enable UM researcher/scholars to inexpensively explore and evaluate the match or promise of potential funding sources for emerging project ideas
  • facilitate the development of relationships, or at least name/face/idea recognition, between UM researcher/scholars and funding officials
  • foster improved understanding of funders’ priorities, and effective strategies for adapting project ideas into effective proposals to those sponsors
  • learn early about future funding priorities and initiatives before they become funding announcements, enabling fast, effective response to eventual RFPs
  • reduce the time and effort (proposal development, submissions and resubmissions) between the day an idea is formed and either the day it becomes a funded project, or the day that the researcher realizes it is not a good fit for (and unlikely ever to be funded by) a particular sponsor/program.

ORSP Initiated Visits ORSP may reach out to a UM researcher who has proposed unsuccessfully to, or expressed an interest in, a sponsor/opportunity.  ORSP will offer to facilitate a visit or conversation with a program officer, then work with the researcher to strategize about the initial contact/request, and determine whether an in-person visit or phone conversation would be best. In the event of an in-person meeting, ORSP will pay up to $500 towards the travel cost of the faculty member, and an ORSP representative may accompany the researcher on the trip/visit[1]. Where practical, ORSP may arrange/pay for a group of such researchers to travel to/from D.C. on the university airplane. ORSP will require that the faculty member prepare for ORSP review and/or feedback a one-page description of the proposed idea, and otherwise help prepare for the visit or conversation. After the visit, the researcher will prepare and share with ORSP a short summary of the conversation/visit, with key takeaways/action plans.

Faculty Travel Grants Alternatively, individual researcher/scholars may initiate the request for an ORSP-facilitated visit or conversation with the program officer. In this case, the researcher should submit the request using the existing ORSP Faculty Travel Grant mechanism and process[2]. These applications will be evaluated and processed similarly to other faculty travel grant applications, but awarded from a separate pool of funds.  Once awarded, the process will be the same as with ORSP Initiated Visits.

[1] When D.C. trips are planned ahead with some date flexibility, it is often possible to get direct, round-trip flights from Memphis (via Southwest Airlines, for instance) for less than $300, which would make a day-trip possible for less than the $500 grant—in other words, free to the researcher.