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. 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. 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.
 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.