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No matter the ingenuity of your science or the capabilities of your core facility, your results are only as good as your peer-to-peer relationship with the flow cytometry personnel. The following points are from my experience as a flow cytometry facility manager, but they are equally applicable during discussions with managers from any core area.
A flow cytometry facility usually lays out strict guidelines in the interest of accessibility, smooth operation, and high uptime of the facility. Cytometrists are some of the coolest nerds on the planet (I know, I am one), but they can do little if the user doesn’t do his/her homework properly.
Discuss to the Max With Your Flow Cytometry Personnel
I cannot stress this enough. Discuss all the facts pertaining to the experiment well beforehand with the facility manager or operator to ensure smooth sailing. Note down the concerns raised by the operator and be sure to let him/her know about your limitations as well. Remember that the operator might perceive a less than one-log decade shift in fluorescence intensity as inconsequential, but it could mean a life’s worth of work for you. If you must share details beyond what is normally needed for the experiment, put your PI in the loop as well.
Log Your Usage
Ensuring that instrument usage is properly logged and documented is in the collective interest of both the end user and the facility manager. Proper logging ensures traceability and can prove extremely useful in the event of a disagreement. Usage logs can also serve as case studies and can help the service or application support specialist in troubleshooting any issues faster. Don’t forget to log any changes that occur midway during the sort or are different than the norm.
Assertion Is Key
This goes both ways. Remember, that as an end user, you have every right to ask for calibration and QC reports prior to running your samples. Have a look at these reports and ask the operator to explain to you the implications of any variations, if any (and while you are at it, pass on the information to your PI as well).
As facility personnel, you always have the right to raise a flag if the user requests more than what is mentioned in the requisition form or when you suspect the sample doesn’t play well with the instrument. If changes have to be made midway upon the user’s request, ensure that the user mentions it in the log book and signs it. Never let users simply take a facility’s time for granted.
Unfortunately, many core facilities suffer from the banes of workplace politics, nepotism and fund crunches. While there is little that you can do to change the situation, ensure that it doesn’t get in the way of your work. I have seen labs that don’t play too well with core facility personnel or claim entitlement rights over instruments. Although rare, these things have the potential to hamper scientific work. Strive to maintain a good working relationship. If there is a disagreement, then you should put it in writing, with appropriate people in the loop, rather than verbally complicating it.
Effective science is nurtured by successful collaborations and discussions. A healthy interaction between end-users and flow cytometry personnel minimizes misunderstandings and saves time, energy and money. In some cases, it can even lead to devising novel approaches to a problem. Maintaining a professional approach that fosters collaboration between labs and core facilities goes a long way in advancing the scientific process.