University Core Facilities Framework at Utah State

Approved: By Research Council – January 24, 2013

A core or shared facility is a research laboratory that provides highly specialized instrumentation, services, and technical support to a University’s research community. The fundamental goal for such facilities is to increase the research capacity and competiveness of faculty, staff, and students by providing them access to sophisticated technology and expertise for research application. Vibrant core support also aids in the recruitment and retention of strong faculty researchers. For these reasons, core facilities are viewed as an important operational and strategic component of a university’s research enterprise. However, the operations and maintenance costs of core facilities is substantial, so there is increasing interest in best practices for facilities management. This document provides a framework for the development and management of new core facilities at Utah State University. It must be emphasized that this framework be applied only to core facilities developed under the purview of the Vice President for Research (VPR), and not to any facility that is controlled at the college/department/center level.

Process to develop a new core facility
Effective core facilities are founded on high-end instrumentation and expertise, so the decision to invest in new cores carries considerable strategic weight. In principle, consideration of any new core facility should be predicated upon a clear, broad-based, and interdisciplinary faculty need. Moreover, the need should be one that cannot be addressed through inexpensive commercial services (e.g., DNA sequencing, oligonucleotide or peptide synthesis) or by cooperative arrangement with core facilities available at the nearby University of Utah or other appropriate regional partners. Finally, it is important to recognize faculty needs for core technology and expertise will regularly evolve, so institutional support for these facilities should be periodically reevaluated. To navigate these challenges, we propose the following approach for development of new core facilities at USU:

  • Annual survey of needed core facilities — The VPR will conduct an annual faculty survey regarding major equipment and core facility needs and preferences.
  • USU Research Council — Outcomes from the survey will be presented to the Research Council for discussion. If further action is endorsed by recommendation of the Research Council, the VPR will develop a strategy for implementation of a new core, or for acquisition of new major research equipment for inclusion at an existing core.
  • Major Research Instrumentation grant — It is common for institutions to seek new equipment through a Major Research Instrumentation grant to the National Science Foundation (NSF-MRI). Like other limited submission opportunities, the NSF-MRI is managed by the VPR office, which affords university leadership the opportunity to align these grants with institutional infrastructure needs and priorities.
  • Core facilities space — Recommendation of the core facility by the Research Council must also include a commitment of space to house the new facility and its staff. This commitment should be formalized in a memorandum of understanding between the affected dean(s) and VPR.

Management of the core facility
Core facilities are an institutional resource whose operations require a shared commitment of resources. These resources include faculty participation, state dollars, and use of recovered indirect costs (F&A). Specifically, we propose that core facilities embody the following management structure:

  1. Faculty core facility director — The VPR will convene a faculty advisory board for the facility that includes established researchers from the colleges and departments with greatest need for the core. The board will recommend faculty members to serve as a possible director of the center. With endorsement from the selected candidate’s dean and department head, the VPR will buy out one month of the faculty member’s time so he or she can oversee day-to-day management of the core. The faculty director will be responsible for growing the campus user base, expanding the capabilities of the core, and encouraging the use of the core as a key science collaboration center. The director will be expected to coordinate the submission of additional grants to support, maintain, and expand the capacity of the core.
  2. PhD-level operator — The VPR, facility director, and advisory board will participate in the hiring of a PhD level scientist whose primary responsibility is to provide technical support (including equipment operations and training) to faculty, staff, and students that wish to use core equipment in their research. The operator will also be expected to provide day-to-day care and oversight of core equipment. Salary for the operator should be fully supported by state (ie. E&G) dollars.
  3. Equipment acquisition and maintenance — The VPR will oversee the acquisition of new, and maintain existing, equipment. The faculty director and advisory board will provide input regarding priorities for service contracts. New equipment could be added through grants, matching funding acquisitions, and in-kind donations.
  4. Scheduling and accounting — The VPR will acquire a centralized scheduling software and will operate the centralized scheduling for all university core laboratories. The VPR will, based on the policies of use for the laboratory and the actual use, be responsible for billing and accounting of fees.
  5. Recharge center function — Core facilities will be recharge centers that require payment for the costs of consumables (reagents, supplies, etc.) and other soft support expenses (student assistants, etc.) within the facility. Determination of appropriate service costs and all accounting responsibilities for facility operations will be the responsibility of the VPR.
  6. Intellectual property — The PI or authors will formally acknowledge the use of the core facility in all written reports. This includes the use of data generated from a core facility in a grant application, progress report, or publication. If core personnel provide significant intellectual input to the results submitted for publication, then it is reasonable and appropriate to include them as co-authors. Since circumstances vary widely, each case should be considered individually.