Posts Tagged ‘Core Director’

I previously wrote about how to assess needs for large equipment purchases for a group. Today I wanted to touch on another issue I run into while working with PIs. Specifically,  the PI who has received funding from an internal or external source to purchase a microscope for their own lab, then finds themselves without enough money to purchase the scope they need.

microscopeIn this case, I am talking about anything from a $5K tissue culture scope to a $60K fluorescent scope.

I have worked with a number of PIs who need a microscope, but who are not microscopiest. They came up with a funding line based on discussions with friends and colleagues or single quotes from a familiar source. However, when the funds come and they start looking around to make a purchase, they find that the system they need is too expensive.

Why?

In my experience, the people who find themselves in this situation were often faced with last minute budgeting and raced to find a number, any number, to put into their submission. I recall when I was submitting grants massive amount of supporting materials that are required. If you aren’t prepared for this, then you might find yourself struggling with Biosketch formatting at the same time you are looking for last minute quotes. Hey, Joe down the hall uses microscopes, he could help me out with a budget for a cell culture scope. Next thing you know, your budget of $3000 is trying to buy a $6000 microscope.

So, here are my two tips for putting equipment in a personal grant or for internal submission.

  1. Start early. Just as you will be thinking about your Specific Aims from the start, spend some time over your morning coffee thinking about what equipment you will need to achieve each Aim.
  2. Put the burden on the vendors to educate you. Google the type of equipment you are looking for and then Cut and Paste your needs for that equipment into the quote request form for each and every supplier. When you are inevitably contacted by the vendor, send them a canned response that you would like a quote for a grant submission and Paste the needs into the email.
  3. If you aren’t familiar with the equipment, do a series of short demonstrations. Two subpoints: 1) just because you do super-resolution doesn’t mean you know what you need in a tissue culture scope 2) the demonstrations can be short and sweet, but make sure the vendors proves they can meet your needs. For instance, tissue culture scope demonstrations can last 15-30 minutes. Here is our scope, here is how you work it, here is what your cells looks like, here is how you capture an image if you want, here are some cool features you might like – you try it.
  4. You need to make the decision, not your graduate students or postdocs. I often hear how “the lab” will be making the decision because they are the ones who will be using it. However, “the lab” is not the one who is applying for funds that will determine whether or not they have jobs next year. Also, “the lab” might not know the nuances or future directions you are considering. Their input is essential, but your name is on the door for a reason.
  5. Budget twice, cut once. Ask for everything you might need and get a list price quote for the equipment that best meets your needs. You won’t get all the money. Don’t ask for steep discounts when submitting the grant. Wait until you receive 75% of what you asked for, then figure out what kind of system you can buy for that price.

 

Okay, those are my thoughts. What did I miss? Where am I wrong? I welcome your input.

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y-u-no-who-broke-the-spectrometer

A couple months ago I was at a core facility with one of our account managers. This was not a microscopy facility, but I still saw the one thing that many cores have in common – angry warning signs. “DO NOT LEAVE THIS EQUIPMENT ON ALL NIGHT” or “DO NOT TURN OFF THIS EQUIPMENT!!!” or “IF YOU BOOK TIME ON THIS EQUIPMENT AND DON’T USE IT, YOU WILL STILL BE CHARGED!!!”

Not all cores have these signs, especially those that offer services for hire, but many of the cores I have visited have posted warnings in the facility or on sign-up pages. Why? Well, because users tend to break stuff. On my first day as a core director at UNC Chapel Hill I was shown the 63X oil immersion objective on our Zeiss 510 NLO confocal. It had weird striations around the barrel and I asked what they were. “Oh, it wouldn’t come off and someone took a wrench to it. We don’t know who did it.”

I think the second sentence of that conversation is the more worrying one. I think the fear of  the core director finding out you don’t know how to use the equipment and that you then broke something is the reason why so many things are destroyed. Everyone makes mistakes and if we keep this in mind when training our users, making it clear that there is a correct way of doing things but that we understand mistakes happen, then they are less likely to feel the need to hide those mistakes. If we make it clear that none of us are perfect and there is a lot to learn and a lot to remember, then maybe more people will come to us before making an error to ask for help. I say “us” even though I am now on the commercial side because we get the same calls you do as core directors, only they are usually from angry core directors instead of users.

Perhaps the only signs or rules that really help avoid equipment damage are those that make it clear how complicated systems can be, that we all need help, and that asking for help will never be punished.

Next time – what to do with those users who KEEP asking for HELP!!!