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Readers Rate Core Labs

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In a Genome Technology Online poll about which group of scientists does the most work but gets the least credit, core lab members scored high (or low, depending on how you look at it) — with 30 percent of the votes. That’s not much of a surprise. In a field heavily dependent on these service-oriented labs, core lab scientists still report having trouble just getting their names on publications they helped make possible.

But just because core lab scientists are underappreciated doesn’t mean they — or their labs — are perfect, so we put the question to you: just how good is your core facility? In our second reader survey on the topic — the first one was published in November 2006 — 586 respondents offered insight into the pros and cons of cores. Some 30 percent of those respondents work in core labs, and they were directed to a series of questions targeted at staff members or managers of these facilities. The rest of the respondents were directed to a different set of questions specific to core lab users.

As we saw in our first survey, the most common types of work sent to core labs involve DNA sequencing, microarrays, or mass spectrometry. Scientists said they were most likely to perform PCR and cloning in their own labs. For the most part, tools offered by core labs closely match this, with one exception: more core members said they offered PCR services than any other tool.

Perhaps the ratings will help boost core lab scientists’ self-esteem. Users are clearly happy with their core facilities — across the board, they overwhelmingly rated the labs as “good” or “excellent.” In fact, the factor most important to users — accuracy of results — got more “excellent” votes than any other measure. Still, there’s room for improvement. Core labs were far more likely to be rated “good” than “excellent,” and among scientists in government, nearly 23 percent said they would switch from their core facility to an external service provider if they were allowed to do so. (Just 13 percent of academic respondents said the same.)

Perhaps part of the problem is simply having too much work to do. In our 2006 survey, almost three-fourths of core lab members said that they had gotten more work that year than the previous year. As of late last year, the work was still piling on, with more than 60 percent of core staff saying they’d seen more orders in 2007 than the year before.

Click here to open a PDF with all the charts and information from our survey.

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