Program Officers: Understanding Awards from an Insider’s Perspective

When applying for grants and fellowships, we encourage students to seek information from all types of reputable sources on everything from general grantsmanship best practices to application-specific details and components. After reviewing the website and solicitation for a particular award, program officers (program managers, program administrators, or perhaps award administrators, depending on the funder) are the next line of information about eligibility requirements, funding organization and award objectives, review panels, how to pitch your research in the context of the award, and and anything specific to that grant or fellowship. However, program officers can also provide tremendously valuable insights into the behind-the-scenes detail of running any award program, a knowledge of which can benefit applicants for any graduate fellowship or grant (even those run by other funders!).

At our 2012 Fall GradFund Conference last Friday, we were proud to feature Dr. Susan Billmaier, a program officer for the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and Laurie Davis, National Chairman of the Garden Club of America Scholarship Committee (thanks to you both for joining us!). These two program officers, who manage very different award programs in terms of disciplinary perspective, award amount, and stage of study supported, offered strikingly similar advice. For example, both noted that when contacting program staff prior to applying, it’s important to be polite and professional, since even the largest funding program is generally run by a small set of people who share information. Additionally, each program officer had individual insights which clearly complemented one another’s comments, even though the two had never met before that day. All this prompts us here at GradFund to encourage you, as a graduate student, to take any opportunity to hear an insider offer up information and advice about an award program (even if you will never apply for that particular award).

If you were not able to join us last Friday, GradFund is organizing another opportunity next week that we invite all graduate students, from all universities, to attend: Next Tuesday, October 9, program staff from the Social Science Research Council will visit Rutgers for an Information Session in the Alexander Library Teleconference Lecture Hall from 11am-1pm.  Dr. Marika Dunn, Program Officer for the Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship, and Elsa Ransom, Program Manager for the International Dissertation Research Fellowship will share their valuable insider perspectives from their award programs. Pre-registration is requested and can be completed on GradFund Central. We hope to see you there!

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