Education of the users and staff of a core facility is one of the most important areas of a Core Managers job.
The level of input and the type of education will depend on the type of facility (clinical or research), the types of instrument in the facility and the input from the staff of the facility. Some areas that should be considered are:
User Education: what is the area of interest of the users? It is possible to organise short in-house ‘courses’ which can be run by facility staff or by invited speakers (though this will have a cost involved). It is also possible to join forces with other facilities in the same town/city/region/country which will allow a larger participation and allow more invited speakers. It is worth considering liaising with machine manufacturers or reagent vendors to engage their help either with organisation, provision of venue or provision of tutors.
Staff Education: Staff of a facility should be provided with a basic tutorial and the opportunity to learn both by experience and in conjunction with manufacturer training courses and academic meetings. There should also be a training program available for all aspects of safety in the cytometry laboratory covering all areas of biological, electrical and radiation safety.
Manager Education: A manager will also need education in organisation and people and resource management. This may be provided by the host institute via a Personal Development Program but can also be available via specific organisations.
Availability of educational material: The best way to do this is electronically either by a dedicated webiste or by access to downloadable material which can be protocols, basic cytometry theory, articles of interest in the public domain, user forums (email lists or web-based). Of course, hard copies of cytometric texts are also useful!
Each individual user should be proficient in the basics of cytometry – the motto should be ‘walk before you can run’. Ideally this should be taught in house either as a 1:1 session or as a group session – this should also ideally have some form of ‘testing’ or ‘assessment’ to ensure users have grasped the theory.
Prevention is better than cure and teaching the basics of cytometer maintenance and troubleshooting will prevent hours of heartache in the long run. Constant updating of user guidelines is also recommended – these can be via a website, a pdf or document file on the cytometer’s computer or as a mailshot. The facility manager should be aware of all users of the facility and their needs and these can be assessed:
- By ‘interviewing’ all new facility users
- By ensuring that all users are competent in cytometer operation
- Speaking to users periodically especially if they are attempting new techniques
The term Principal Investigator, or PI (not to be confused with a well-known DNA stain), is often used to refer to the Head of a Laboratory or even group of Laboratories which may consist of a number of post-doctoral fellows, graduate students (PhD students) and/or technical and ancillary staff. Although PIs often perform little day to day benchwork, they will be responsible for the direction of research. It is important that they understand something of the principles of cytometry so that they can sensibly discuss with their staff results. In this regard the core facility manager can be pro-active:
- Have periodic meetings with PIs to let them know of advances in the facility and also to have an idea of the general research direction they may be taking as this could ultimately impact on the workload of the facility
- Be prepared to discuss results from individual Lab users and be prepared to explain patiently their meaning!
- Speak to all new and prospective PIs to advise them of the facility service.
Faculty here is a term that is probably more prevalent in North America than elsewhere, meaning a division generally of a university. In core management terms it comes into play as a facility grows in size and the number of users grows. Interaction with other groups in a University or Institute can be rewarding for all but again ground rules should be set, How is the funding provided for the facility and who is entitled to use it? Do collaborations between current users and wider faculty members mean that those people have equal access to the facility? In general collaborations are useful for all concerned – users get access to a knowledge base that they need and facility staff can sometimes get experience in techniques they may not always get otherwise.
Some core facilities will operate a total ‘pay for usage’ scheme which will mean that any geographical local user or group could buy time in the facility. However this is unusual and most facilities will have a local userbase which could be one laboratory, a small group of laboratories or a whole institute. However, as facilities grow, it may be that they house equipment that is not readily available elsewhere and many core facilities do perform work with ‘external users’ However, several ground rules need to be established in these cases. These will vary depending on the management structure that the facility fits within but may include for example:
- All external users should have a lower priority than internal users
- External users may have a higher tariff than internal users
- External users may only be allowed on a collaborative basis
- Access and data control for external users should be controlled by the facility manager