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Core To The Mission Of Cutting-Edge Science

Northwestern core facility leadership a presence at ABRF 2019 meeting

Cores meeting

The Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities annual meeting was held March 23 to 26, 2019 in San Antonio.

When research staff address  technical issues in biomolecular core facilities, the opportunities to extend scientific possibility abound.

That unifying message — presented at the start of the Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities (ABRF) annual meeting held March 23 to 26 in San Antonio — carried through four days of keynote addresses, plenary talks, scientific discussions, workshops, and networking events.

“Administrative sessions at the ABRF annual meeting are so valuable because they often become collaborative problem-solving endeavors between colleagues, with conversations spilling over into less formal settings throughout the day,” said Aaron Rosen, senior financial analyst in Core Facilities Administration at Northwestern, who attended the event for the seventh time.

At one early administrative session, participants discussed a report prepared by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) that offered general guidelines to universities for best practices when developing a core facility program. Andy Ott, director of Core Facilities, and Rosen offered examples from Northwestern’s experiences running a cores program in line with FASEB guidelines. Examples of the University’s successes include enrolling all cores in a central billing and management system (NUcore); developing multiple funding programs for cores; both an equipment grant and loan program (ReLODE); a core usage voucher program; a regional reciprocal core facility usage agreement (CBC Open Access); and a unified cost-study template.

“Our Core Facilities program is an internationally recognized administrative model that other universities are looking to emulate,” said Rosen. “Discussing our successes and challenges with colleagues offers the chance to further lead by example.”

Jeffrey Weiss, research professor of medicine and director for research core planning at the Feinberg School of Medicine, and Philip Hockberger, associate vice president for research, also attended the event and took part in discussions on Northwestern’s success and the professionalization of cores as a scientific field.

ABRF marked the one-year anniversary of the FASEB report on Maximizing Shared Research Resources with a series of table discussions, including a specific session on Keeping Expertise and Services Current, which was moderated by Weiss. Participants identified user feedback as a critical component and shared their experiences with a range of approaches, including surveys, open houses, reports, newsletters, workshops, and vendor-specific training. They also discussed the need to embrace some calculated risk, pushing services beyond the current limits, and ensuring ongoing  staff development.

Another ABRF session described a consortium of community colleges (Bio-Link) that provides technical training and contract services for the biotechnology industry. The consortium offers students education and hands-on experience with modern equipment and techniques leading to either a technical certificate or college degree.

Promoting careers in cores is something Hockberger, an ABRF member since 2010, has dedicated the past decade to. At this year’s meeting, Hockberger helped organize a satellite workshop led by Bob Garvey, one of Europe’s leading academic practitioners of coaching and mentoring. Garvey, a widely published member of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council, shared some of his extensive experience in working internationally and across many sectors of social and economic activity.

For Ott, the ABRF meeting was an opportunity to take a deep dive into the varied research activities of individual laboratories and to explore new product releases from instrument vendors that will drive future service offerings by Northwestern cores.

“In addition to strategic planning associated with developing business plans, obtaining funding for cores, and technical development in bioanalytical fields, the Core Administration track at the 2019 ABRF national meeting addressed cultural issues of inclusion and creating safe spaces for all individuals working in academic laboratories,” said Ott. “In an open conversation, attendees learned how to recognize our own privileges and how to effectively advocate for underrepresented groups. This discussion is important as the nation struggles to increase diversity in our workplaces and as Northwestern strives to increase psychological safety of staff.”

The ABRF includes more than 700 members working within or in the support of resource and research biotechnology laboratories. The association promotes the education and career advancement of scientists through conferences, a quarterly journal, publication of research group studies, and conference travel awards. The society also sponsors multicenter research studies designed to help members incorporate new biotechnologies into their laboratories.

By Roger Anderson