Core lab careers - providing the infrastructure for modern research

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Cell culture technician

What are core labs?

Core labs, also known as core facilities, shared resource facilities, or shared research facilities, are found in most Universities, public / private / government research institutes, and companies. They provide the infrastructure for modern research by making it possible for investigators to access technical expertise, laboratory services, and specialized instruments.

Core labs make today’s cutting-edge research possible. By centralizing expertise and high-end instrumentation, core labs provide a more efficient use of resources and help researchers to draw on multiple techniques from multiple disciplines.  It's impossible for individual researchers to become proficient in all of today’s current technologies that needed for their research.

Core labs are also playing a key role in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.  Many labs are offering COVID-19 testing services.  Many others are collaborating on projects to analyze the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 and helping to manage clinical trials.

What do core labs do?

Core labs typically specialize in one or more related areas of technology, with many Universities housing several different of core labs.  The number of core facilities continues to increase as modern research becomes more complicated.  Fred Hutch, a research institute in Seattle, has 33 core facilities.  Emory University, in Atlanta, has 18 core labs.

Some of the most common types of core labs are listed below: 

  • Animal care
  • Antibody Technology
  • Bioinformatics
  • Biomanufacturing
  • Biomolecule production
  • Cell culture
  • DNA sequencing
  • Flow cytometry
  • Genomics and transcriptomics
  • Glasswash
  • Histology
  • Media preparation
  • Microscopy and imaging
  • Protein analysis
  • Proteomics
  • Mass spectrometry
  • Statistics
  • Transgenic mouse production
  • Vector production
  • Zebra fish

Now you know.  If you ever see a scientific paper about transgenic mice, the author probably collaborated with a core lab to get the embryos injected and manage the mouse colony.

What is it like to work in a core lab?

Core labs are staffed by professional scientists and technicians with a commitment to collaboration and customer service. In a 2020 survey(1), core lab staff shared their favorite reasons for working in core facilities.  They cited the collaborative environment with more stable jobs and better work-life balance than many careers.  They liked the ability to work on different projects and participate in cutting-edge science without the pressure of a tenure-track faculty position.  Many of those surveyed also enjoyed interacting with the lab’s customers.

Nature has a great profile about Stefan Green, a scientist who manages the DNA-services core facility at the University of Illinois in Chicago (2) and different aspects of working in a core laboratory. You can see him at work in a past story.

Alumni profiles from Core labs

Many graduates from two-year biotech programs work in core labs. Click the image or links below to read about their jobs.


References

1. Adami, Valentina et al. “An international survey of Training Needs and Career Paths of Core Facility Staff.” Journal of Biomolecular techniques : JBT, jbt.2021-3201-002. 20 Nov. 2020, doi:10.7171/jbt.2021-3201-002
2. Gould J. “Core facilities: Shared support.” Nature. 2015 Mar 26;519(7544):495-6. doi: 10.1038/nj7544-495a. PMID: 25815394.

 

Submitted by Sandra Porter on Thu March 25, 2021.