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How To Train Your Personnel

Written by Tim Bushnell, PhD

ExCyte chooses to train people in flow cytometry because we know what it’s like to feel the pain of ruined experiments. No one enjoys wasting thousands of dollars on reagents and priceless amounts of instrument and personnel time. This is especially true when grant funding comes into play. No one wants to miss out on a grant simply because the technology is too complex to master alone in a vacuum.

How much time, money and resources are wasted by half-trained individuals trying to operate complex cytometers sold as pushbutton washing machines? Every vendor sells the dream that their instrument can be run by anyone. And to a point, this dream is true. Any monkey can be trained to push buttons in the proper sequence. And surely a thousand monkeys can get it right eventually.

For too many people, learning flow cytometry is like playing the game “Telephone.” Someone starts a story about how the instrument should be run, then they tell that story to someone else, who tells it to a third person, and so on. Eventually, the story bears no resemblance to the original. This is a subpar way to learn how to use a complex piece of equipment that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more.

Most flow cytometers, imaging cytometers, and related instruments require operators with a background of biology and the mechanics of how the instrument works, not to mention which software to use and how. Even instruments that can be run by Graduate students and other untrained personnel benefit from the oversight of a trained operator. And encouraging these students to learn more about the field of flow cytometry is important to their scientific growth.

There are some things a color chart can’t teach you. Once you progress above 4-color flow, there are several complex variables to contend with. For example:

1. Knowing the difference between Tri-Color, Cy5-Pe and CyChrome (hint – there isn’t one)

2. Knowing why your APC signal is down on first tube (hint – could be residual bleach)

3. Knowing why FMO controls are important

4. Understanding proper treatment of compensation controls

5. How to setup and identify the proper voltage settings

6. Knowing whether or not you should save and reuse compensation settings (hint – you shouldn’t)

Proper training avoids waste of resources, time, and energy. Stop passing stories down from monkey to monkey. Instead, start educating your personnel professionally. This will make your lab more productive and competitive in the long run. You will also gain the peace of mind that comes with knowing exactly what to do in any flow cytometry situation. Knowledge is power in this case. The power to succeed.

Tim Bushnell, PhD


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