Going beyond the helpdesk. The extended offer of VIB core facilities

20 March 2019
Whoever assumes that VIB core facilities only provide executive services is greatly mistaken. Today, their focus lies on helping biologists expand their knowledge and use state-of-the-art technologies. This kind of collaboration is the key to achieving scientific breakthroughs.

If you ask Saskia Lippens (VIB Bioimaging Core, Ghent), Sebastian Munck (VIB Bioimaging Core, Leuven), Alexander Botzki (VIB BioInformatics Core) and Gert Van Isterdael (VIB Flow Core, Ghent), the mission of the VIB core facilities is to provide technological support to the scientific community – in the broadest sense possible. We gave them the floor to elaborate on how this works in practice.

There are more VIB core facilities today than there used to be. But in which other ways did they evolve?
Sebastian: “Let me start at the beginning: the first VIB core facilities were founded to facilitate technological approaches to scientific research. VIB was in need of readily available infrastructure and technology experts knowing exactly how to use the installations. We were eager to meet this demand.”

Saskia: “Making cutting-edge technologies available to all kinds of users – ranging from beginners to experienced scientists – still constitutes our core business. But gradually, we started to approach our mission differently. Today, the offer of VIB core facilities transcends executive services: technological mentoring and coaching have become equally important.”

Sebastian: “To sum up, we strongly engage in three main activities: outreach, referring to the technological services we make accessible, training – both inside and outside VIB – and collaboration.”

Where do the outreach, training and collaboration goals of the core facilities intersect?
Alexander: “In the overarching bottom-up approach, I’d say. Our ultimate goal is to bring technology closer to the whole scientific community so that researchers can exploit its possibilities by themselves. To do so, for example, we organize training programs and conferences, which requires close collaboration with industrial, academic and VIB partners. All interested parties are welcome to participate.”

Gert: “Clearly, the activities of the research groups and the VIB cores are complementary but mutually dependent. For example, if we present our work at an international meeting, it will always be the result of a joint effort.”

How do you establish and maintain deep partnerships without losing your independence as an institute?
Sebastian: “Partnerships are mutually beneficial as long as the trains go in the same direction. However, we make sure to sit in the driver’s seat and, as such, take the lead in collaborations with external parties.”

Alexander: “Speaking for the VIB BioInformatics Core, we will always need partnerships to enhance our outreach initiatives. Every two years, for example, we organize a bioinformatics conference together with the VIB Conferences Team where other Belgium PI’s in the field join our scientific committee.”

Gert: “In fact, this holds true for all VIB core facilities. Being connected to like-minded companies and institutes helps us keep pace with rapidly developing technologies, gain visibility in the biotech field and be given worldwide recognition. Thanks to our partners, we’re able to remain at the leading edge as technology experts.”

What kind of employee profiles do VIB core facilities require to fulfill their ambitions?
Saskia: “In previous years, the Bioimaging Core, might, for example, advertise for a facility head with ‘diversified expertise in microscopy’. But since our mission has gradually expanded to include training and consulting, communication and management skills have become indispensable. Without them, it’s impossible to pass on technological knowledge.”

Sebastian: “In short: we’re scientific superheroes – and we haven’t even reached the peak of our capacities. (laughs) No, seriously, if there’s one thing to keep in mind about core facilities, it’s this: our teams are responsible for a whole range of tasks – enabling technologies, improving outreach, providing training and building strong partnerships. And this, of course, requires a diversified workforce.”




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OUR SCIENTISTS ABOUT THE VIB CORES

LENNART MARTENS
VIB-UGENT CENTER FOR MEDICAL BIOTECHNOLOGY
“Thanks to the help of the VIB BioInformatics Core, by means of the Developed@VIB program, we were able to convert our stand-alone Scop3D tool into a web application with extended and improved functionality. This new Scop3D web application has already led to a joint paper (Kreft et al., Journal of Proteome Research 2018) of my group and the VIB BioInformatics Core.”



KAROLIEN DE BOSSCHER
VIB-UGENT CENTER FOR MEDICAL BIOTECHNOLOGY
“Thanks to the involvement of, and smooth cooperation between, two VIB cores, Viacheslav Mylka’s autophagy paper was produced under the supervision of Saskia Lippens and Riet De Rycke of the VIB Bioimaging Core in Ghent, and Francis Impens of the VIB Proteomics Core.”