New funding opportunities for psychologists open up all the time at the National Science Foundation (NSF), and NSF program officers are eager to share them. Yet sometimes researchers aren't sure how to find the information they need or are reluctant to directly contact the people who can help them most.

If you're looking for funding, here's some advice from those in the know:

  • Familiarize yourself with the program you hope to get funding from. "Be serious about reading the NSF's Web information on the programs and funding you're interested in," says Joseph L. Young, PhD, program director in human cognition and perception in NSF's Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE). "It's well-organized, but voluminous and complex, and you've got to take the time to read it so you can understand the requirements." The information is continuously updated on the Web site, and the Web easy to maneuver, adds Steven Breckler, PhD, program director for social psychology in the SBE directorate. New areas are being added to the site on a regular basis, so keep checking, he says.

  • Get to know your program officer(s). "Researchers tend to assume that NSF program officers are government bureaucrats without any expertise in their area," Breckler says. "But the whole point of rotators [see main article] is that there are people coming from the same place you're coming from. They're the best people to know." Although NSF program officers welcome e-mails and phone calls, it's probably best to make initial contacts at scientific meetings if time permits, adds Young. An ideal opportunity, he suggests, is at cocktail or snack hours that take place during relevant conference poster sessions. NSF always has posters at the Psychonomics Society conferences, for example, a common meeting ground for cognitive psychologists. In addition, APA often holds convention sessions that focus on federal funding; they, too, provide a good place to meet program officers.

Contacting program officers is not just OK, it's encouraged, emphasizes Merry Bullock, PhD, APA's associate executive director for science, who was an NSF program officer in 1994. "It's not like you're asking for your allowance or a handout," she says. "Program officers are very interested in having their program be as good as it can possibly be"--and that happens by funding worthwhile research.

  • Talk to people who have gotten funded. "Get advice on your proposal before you send it in," advises Young. People who have learned the ropes of NSF funding can give you good tips, particularly your colleagues or mentors, he says. "Since they won't be your reviewers, there won't be a conflict of interest."