Posts Tagged ‘Microscope’

The #1 thing you need to keep in mind when buying equipment is to clearly identify and communicate your needs before starting the process.

There, that is the punchline, read on if you want to learn a little more about my perspective. I have been involved in equipment purchases from the customer and sales side. They have been as small as mini-microfuges for the lab or multiphoton systems for live animal imaging. I have purchased systems without thinking through what the criteria were clearly and I have worked with customers to determine their criteria.

Too often the ideal criteria are murky for the large equipment grant, joint purchase, start-up/new PI purchase, or institutional purchase. When I have been on the sales side this is irritating becasue I can’t even tell you if my system is the correct one if you don’t know what you want to do. There are some people that take advantage of this and discuss your needs in such a way that, Lo and Behold, their system becomes the best possible option for you. Occasionally, this might work out for both parties but too often the result is a piece of equipment that has unnecessary or missing features.

What should the first steps in the buying process be then? I would suggest the following:

  1. Identify wants and needs. These are different. Lots of people “wanted” a multiphoton back in the early 2000s but not nearly so many needed one.
  2. Convert needs into slightly more generic terms. “We need a spinning disc to image yeast bud formation” becomes “We need a highly sensitive, live cell imaging system with incubation control.” Don’t lock yourself into the technology you know or that one person suggests.
  3. Rank the needs by impact. This is difficult. It requires you to look at what resources you have, how they might be modified or upgraded to suit some needs, and what is truly missing. It also requires a dispassionate person to look at the overall impact on the facility that meeting different needs will have.
  4. Reach out to every supplier you can find with a list of needs. This list should not specify features “point scanning confocal with GaAsP detectors” but needs “live cell imaging system capable of imaging yeast bud formation without bleaching”. Let the vendors bring you the best match to your needs.
  5. Let the vendors know how much funding you have. What! I can hear your saying that the vendors will just try to squeeze every penny out of you. Maybe. But, just as likely is that you hide the funding level from them and they demonstrate a system to you everyone loves, but that you cannot afford (I will be writing about this next).
  6. Do a demonstration that measures your needs. Plan this out well in advance, maybe way back at step 2 or 3. The demonstration should test your needs, not the system. It is great that the system makes coffee, but you already have a coffee machine, you were looking for a food processor – right?
  7. Measure the equipment demonstrations versus these needs. You have done your homework, now stick with it. Don’t let your head get turned by some really cool feature that will impact no one or a software package that you don’t need or the promise of a “free” system that will be thrown in with the purchase of a lesser system. Stick to your list of needs and see which system quantitatively meets them best.
  8. Negotiate in good faith. You gave a budget, your vendor should have brought in and demonstrated a system that will meet that budget. You chose their system as the one that would meet your needs and fit your budget. Want to negotiate, sure, this is ‘Merica after all. But, keep in mind that you are about to join a parntership with this vendor and you don’t want to start that partnership with a fight.

So, there you have it. Those are my thoughts on large equipment purchases. Each one could be its own blog post, but please tell me what you think and what you would add.

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Last time, I added that title as a joke to my blog post on how to keep people from breaking your equipment. The take home message was to make people feel comfortable coming to you with questions or concerns and to let them know that this stuff can be complicated so it is okay to forget and need help. So, the obvious joke was "okay, now how do i get them to stop asking me for help!"

That's an honest question to a real problem. Any of us who have run cores or who do training for a commercial product have had those users/customers that just won't learn the system. They come to rely on the core director/manager/product specialist to answer any and all questions. These users quickly wear on you because before long the questions start repeating themselves. If you are working with someone that is exploring new functionalities each week, then you can excuse continuing questions because, again, this stuff can be complicated. But, about the third time someone asks you how to save data or export files or put in a sample – you can be excused for getting annoyed.

So, what to do with users that keep asking for help.

  1. Ask yourself, why aren't they valuing your time? First, you need to be clear whether or not it is your job to be on call for every little thing. If the answer is no, then why do they think you are on call and how do you make them realize your time should be valued as much as their own. One possibility is that you haven't made your role clear.
  2. Clarity is king. If you are in a commercial role, did you clearly lay out what the process would be after the sale and install? Did you include the words "independence" in the description? If you are a core director, did you start out your training session by explaining what you would be doing over the course of several sessions and how the final goal was independence? Be clear up front, let the user know what will be expected of them or better yet what they can expect – understanding and independence.
  3. Be honest with yourself, your training might suck. At some point, if this is a recurring problem then you have to ask if you are doing a good job teaching. Being a core director, assistant, or an Application Specialist is not the same as being a scientist, just as being a good postdoc is not a guarantee to be a successful PI. Are you teaching users how to become independent or are you just dumping information in their general direction?
  4. Charge them. When all else fails and someone refuses to value your time, then you have no choice but to charge for your time. This should not come out of nowhere, there should be an open and calm discussion with the user concerning the expectations you laid out and that hands-on time requires a fee.

These are my thoughts. What are yours?

I was a selfish scientist. Now, at the time I did not know I was a selfish scientist but instead a person who wanted to surprise others with a completed package of results. That did not happen very often, but what did happen was that I locked people out of my day-to-day science. Collaboration was not something I valued, instead I was “independent”. Starting with my postdoctoral fellowship at Duke I began collaborating mentally but not physically. There were many long and interesting discussions about what interactions might take place during embryogenesis, but no collaboration on experiments to prove it.

My first real experience with collaboration came at Coastal Carolina University when I co-taught an MAT course on Reproductive Biology. It was fun, thinking and planning out how to teach this course, what materials to use, who would teach what lessons. Not long later I ended up at UNC-Chapel Hill as Core Director at the UNC Neuroscience Center. This is where  my interest in collaboration really grew, but in a unique direction. I was writing and spearheading equipment grants and in the process of finding new grants I came across several opportunities that weren’t right for me, but were for two or more faculty members at UNC. I found great joy in connecting faculty members to these grant opportunities.

After my transition to sales, I have found that collaboration is the norm. If you are a customer and you are not collaborating with your sales professionals then you are missing out on an opportunity. If you area sales person and are not collaborating with your customers to find the best solution, then you are doing it wrong.