Dealing with Pandemic Disruptions? Contact your Program Officer

As part of its March meeting, members of ASPB’s Science Policy Committee (SPC) met with program staff from several federal funding agencies, including the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Biological and Environmental Research Program at the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Directorate for Biological Sciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF).  SPC members asked about how agencies were supporting researchers who had experienced disruptions in their research productivity or career path due to the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic – closed universities, limited access to research facilities, missed fieldwork seasons, added caregiving responsibilities, etc.  Staff at USDA, DOE, and NSF all stressed that they want to be helpful and engage with scientists facing pandemic-related obstacles, especially for early-career researchers and those researchers at transition points in their careers.  Instead of creating blanket policies to apply to all grantees from a given agency, federal staff are encouraging researchers who could benefit from assistance to reach out individually to discuss their situation and what assistance might be most helpful.

Here are some general tips for your outreach:

  • Email the program officer(s) for your active grant(s), or whomever the program officer was from your most recent grant (especially if it expired during the past year).
  • If you’re a graduate student or postdoc supported by your PI’s grant, ask your PI to help you get in touch with the program officer.
  • If you’re getting ready to apply for your first independent grant, contact the program officer for the program you’re planning to apply to.
  • Write to the program officer, explaining how the pandemic has disrupted your research and inquire if they can speak with you to discuss additional support or resources that may be available. Prepare a list of specific challenges you’ve faced due to COVID-19, and outline how those challenges have directly impacted your ability to carry out research funded by that agency.
  • Brainstorm what would be the most helpful thing the agency could do for you – an extra year of funding for your main research grant? An extra year of early-career status? – and be prepared to discuss why this “ask” would be beneficial to you.
  • Always follow up from any conversation with program officers with a thank you note.

If you are experiencing challenges getting in touch with federal contacts please let us know so we can provide assistance – email us at

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