My Proven 5-Point Fast Track To A Career In Flow
While we normally cover purely technical content for application in your lab, this week’s article is a bit different. I want to talk about a highly effective career option that I know from many years of direct experience: Shared Resource Laboratories (SRLs). Also known as “core facilities,” these research hubs represent a significant investment—by some number of institutions—in personnel and resources.
In an SRL, staff and directors possess advanced training, allowing them to support resident researchers. Working in an SRL can be a really exciting career option for researchers who enjoy:
- Contributing to many different projects
- Working in scientific customer service
- Doing flow cytometry!
I can tell you firsthand that getting started in an SRL can be daunting. A lot of different professionals or “users” both expect and assume your expertise. They will come to you for answers, and that can be intimidating to a researcher who is just beginning their career.
Some of these questions might be fairly easy to answer, but the truth is that plenty are not. A successful flow cytometry career means staying up to date on the latest information, best practices, top resources, and more.
Thinking about starting a career in flow cytometry? Then you have a fulfilling and engaging science career ahead of you. And to help guide you during this early stage, here are 5 strategies that will accelerate your progress as you make your way into a credible SRL.
1. Study flow cytometry in depth.
To make the most of science technology, education should be your very first step. In flow cytometry, you will need to learn about operating a cytometer, how to gauge fluorochrome brightness, troubleshoot issues with equipment, in experiments, in data analysis…
The list goes on.
So how do you pursue an education of this magnitude? Some options include:
- Vendor Training Courses (ideal for instrument-specific training)
- Society Training (ICCS, ISAC, and ESCCA have accessible training materials for researchers at varying levels of experience)
- Annual Training Courses (a great way to learn new techniques and network with peers & experts in the field)
With so many training materials being put online because of the current pandemic; it’s an excellent time to take a moment to expand your knowledge.
2. Find (or start) a regional users’ group.
This step can be challenging – finding all the local users of a specific technology is not as easy as introducing yourself to your neighbors. Fortunately, it’s not uncommon for a given area to host an annual meeting for its regional cytometry group. For example, the annual CYTO and ICCS meetings make it easy to find local users and experts in flow cytometry tech. Of course, if there isn’t a regional group event near you, then you might have to start one yourself.
Watch the Purdue list, Twitter and Linkedin (among others) for announcements for virtual meetings. This may allow you to attend meetings in different regions, exposing you to different people.
3. Start developing your support network.
In a complex field like flow cytometry, a support network is critical – this is where you can ask questions and get answers without waiting too long. Developing a network is particularly important during the early stages of your career in an SRL.
There are a few excellent resources that deserve space at the top of your list. These include:
- The Purdue Listserv — A more-than-20-year-old resource with thousands of scientists as members. Purdue Listserv is dedicated to answering your flow cytometry questions. Whether you need to know about sheath fluid, isotype controls, or the fine points of compensation, their extensive database is a reliable source of answers. This list is moderated to provide more focused conversation among users.
- The Expert Cytometry Mastery Class — My personal project, the Mastery Class is the world’s fastest-growing and most successful flow cytometry training program. We offer an annual and lifetime subscription to a 4-module training course, a live webinar series, weekly emails, bi-weekly blog articles, and more. Members get access to our private discussion group where we discuss training and education topics on a daily basis. Our network represents a huge opportunity for making career connections in the flow universe.
- Linkedin — The professional ‘Facebook’. There are many different articles out there that offer different tips to improve your LinkedIn profile. It doesn’t hurt to get a professional headshot either. Once you have that, start reaching out slowly to other people in SRLs who can serve as contacts. Be sure not to reach out without including a personal statement about yourself and why you’re reaching out (avoid the ‘Please Join My Network’).
- Twitter — This is a great platform to learn about others doing flow cytometry and another source of information. You can start by following people you’ve heard of, core facilities, and companies. Share the tweets you find valuable and don’t be afraid to share your thoughts as well. That’s how you can get noticed and build connections and a following.
- ISAC SRL Emerging Leadership Program — is a good program to apply for early in your career. It will provide you with funding and access to more senior members of society.
4. Seek out a mentor.
There’s no shame in locating a senior scientist with years of wisdom to impart. Your mentor should be a friendly resource for career advice. They can help you solve difficult scientific or technical problems, act as a sounding board for your ideas, and let you in on the secrets that official educational resources might leave out.
If your mentor is a part of your own institution, they can even help with potential “political” issues that will arise as you move up the career ladder and become the manager or director of a facility.
The Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities has also established a Mentoring program, which may be another resource to find someone who could serve as mentors.
As you search for a mentor, make sure that there is chemistry and a fit between you and the mentor. Also, work to establish expectations of the relationship so that everyone goes into the relationship with eyes open. This should be codified using a mentorship agreement such as this one. You should also evaluate the relationship on an annual basis.
Of course, as you grow in your career, don’t be surprised if you become a mentor to someone new to the field.
5. Maximize your network (and expertise) with travel.
A fully-rounded education in flow cytometry is hard to come by, especially if expertise/resources are limited at your current institution. That means you’ve probably got some travel ahead of you. Rather than sticking it out at just one location, it’s a better strategy to simply use another institution to learn a specific technique. “Travel” may be more virtual at this time, but don’t hesitate to reach out to other groups to gain information and experience.
Travel costs money and takes time, but your career will thank you for it. Becoming a member of an SRL is an exciting opportunity, and to be successful in this field, you have to seek out new educational opportunities & network with your peers. If you’re not the networking type, remember that most flow cytometrists are usually happy to talk and share their ideas/experiences to help out a fellow cytometrist.
To learn more about important control measures for your flow cytometry lab, and to get access to all of our advanced materials including 20 training videos, presentations, workbooks, and private group membership, get on the Flow Cytometry Mastery Class wait list.
ABOUT TIM BUSHNELL, PHD
Tim Bushnell holds a PhD in Biology from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is a co-founder of—and didactic mind behind—ExCyte, the world’s leading flow cytometry training company, which organization boasts a veritable library of in-the-lab resources on sequencing, microscopy, and related topics in the life sciences.More Written by Tim Bushnell, PhD