What to do when the salesperson comes to call.

After ~20 years in research, I made the leap into a commercial role. For the past nine years I have functioned on the dark side – selling equipment to scientists who are pure of heart. As a postdoc I did most of the ordering for years. Tips, tubes, plastics, media, microfuges, all the consumables and minor equipment. I know how disruptive it can be to have generalists and account managers walking in and out of the lab trying to sell you stuff.

Now, I am often the person walking through the door and the most common interaction I have had with customers is:

Me (walking into lab): Hey, how you doing, I’m Rob from GE. 

Customer: GET OUT SATAN! GET THEE OUT!!!!

Alright, that might be a slight exaggeration, but scientists are wary of salespeople and jealous of their time. What they do not realize is that they might be losing out on advice that could improve their chances at funding.

Wait, did I just say that? Some salesperson is going to improve your chance at publication and funding? Yes.

Through my time in science I did reproductive biology, cell biology, neuroscience and developmental biology. I have used (to some degree) human tissue, mouse, chicken, zebrafish, sharks, rays, and urchins. My techniques were pretty broad from IEF to Sanger sequencing, from oocyte isolation to cutting brain slices. I won’t be walking in and telling anybody how to do any of this work. The closest I come is to enjoy watching and chatting about it on Twitter. But, I have been doing microscopy for 25 years and in that area I can offer some advice.

I might never walk into a cytoskeleton lab and tell them how to perform their TIRF or a neuro lab and tell them how to image living, moving mice. There are a lot of world experts who don’t need to hear from me when it comes to techniques. On the other hand, I have trained hundreds of people and I have done trouble-shooting on an equal number of systems. More importantly, I have seen the mistakes your labbies are making that might be costing you time, money, and results.

As a salesperson I walk into a lot of imaging facilities or labs. I have walked into high-end cores and seen incredibly poor standards. I have seen people imaging samples for HHMI investigators with oil on dry objectives because if it works for one objective it must be good for all of them. One of my favorites was a user doing “DIC” on a scope without DIC. Labs who explain their lasers are out only when they look through the eye pieces and not when they actually scan their samples. There are a number of labs I know who have published questionable data based on manipulating images and not knowing what they are doing. It is a good idea for researchers to guard their valuable time, but wasting it using bad techniques is worse. Every time someone in your lab makes a mistake on a piece of equipment it costs you money and time, which you can never recover and which your competitors might not be wasting.

In every one of the cases above, the faculty probably paid a lot of money to someone for their microscope system. Why not create a relationship with those microscope companies and ask them for help so these basic mistakes don’t happen? Most of my colleagues come from the same background as I do, PhDs who have run labs, cores, or published good papers before deciding they wanted something different. Use us, that is what we are here for. Ask us:

  •  Do you have a training manual we can use for our own training?
  • Do you provide a special training for the person in our lab/core that will be training others?
  • Can we get an initial training and then follow-up at 30/60/90 days as new questions arise?
  • Would you be willing to provide a formal/informal user group meeting every year so everyone can get up to date on new software or hardware changes?
  • Can I have your cell phone number, the apps support number, and the local service tech number?

I don’t know about you, but I feel like anyone who buys a piece of equipment should have as good a relationship with that company as they do with their local barista or cashier at their regular grocery store. Yes, we can provide insight into doing TIRF and multi-photon, but we can also help your lab run more smoothly and efficiently. Try us.

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