Thursday, 17 December 2009

How was 2009 for you? What do you need to work on in 2010?

Training know-how applied to laboratory science

Now that 2009 is coming to an end it is a good time to review how your professional year went and consider what you want to do next year. This may be performed as part of a companywide performance review programme where you will use proscribed templates to identify what you have achieved and what your targets will be for next year. All too often these procedures can feel like a paperwork exercise which is simply done so that a tick can be put in the right box. However, if you want to develop your career further it is a good idea to use a performance review as an opportunity to assess what you can do well and where you want to be in the future.

A training plan is a key component in developing your skills. If you do not have support for formal training then you need to find ways to learn about your chosen subject in an informal way. I am going to concentrate on the technical skills related to working in a pharmaceuticals analytical laboratory but you can probably apply a similar approach to the other workplace skills you require such as so called ‘soft skills’, which includes communication, time management, people management, project planning etc.

What do you currently do well? To figure out what you want to improve you first need to assess your current knowledge and skills. In a laboratory setting this will usually translate into knowledge and skills related to particular analytical tasks. Write out all the tasks which you have used over the past year and try to determine your level of proficiency. It may be convenient to use the following categories:

Analytical chemistry laboratory skills & knowledge
Examples include: Using a balance; Using volumetric glassware; pH measurement; Analytical method validation; Analytical method transfer,etc.

Laboratory techniques
Examples include: High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC); Infra-red spectroscopy; Water determination by Karl Fischer; Titrations, etc.

Laboratory procedures
Examples include: Use of laboratory documentation; Knowledge of standard operating procedures (SOPs); Recording data; Equipment calibration; Deviations and out of specification results, etc.

Pharmaceutical science
Examples include: Forced degradation studies; Stability studies, etc.

This is quite a difficult task. It is advisable to seek help from others. This may mean talking to your line manager but it may also help to talk to an experienced colleague or your peers to give you a range of opinions. You may encounter bias if you only seek out one person’s opinion. The aim is not to come out as high as possible for each identified task but to determine your level of competency as accurately as possible. At the same time as discussing what your current level is you also need to figure out what you need to do next and prioritise which tasks are likely to be most important in your day to day work and most beneficial to furthering your career. The next stage is to convert the information you have obtained into a realistic training plan for 2010.

If you discover that you already have a broad range of knowledge and skills at a highly proficient level (you probably already knew this but it’s nice to have it confirmed!) then you may wish to develop an area of expertise. This is a great way to raise your profile.

Two things to consider:

  1. Pick a topic which you find interesting and if possible, very interesting. It is much easier to develop expertise in a subject area that you are passionate about.
  2. Pick a subject in which you have a realistic opportunity to gain experience and which is a valuable asset in your career plans.
To summarise, figure out what you are able to do well and what you need to be able to do well to move on to the next step on your career ladder.

This advice is based on the approach used by Mourne Training Services for performing training needs analysis. We carry out job analysis for the roles in your laboratory and define competence based standards for the work activities identified. We then assess current capabilities and identify the learning needs for which training solutions are suggested. Contact us if you are interested in our training consultancy services for training needs analysis.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Feedback from free HPLC training video

In June of this year Mourne Training Services released a free training video on YouTube: ‘A Brief Guide to HPLC instruments’. The video has been extremely popular with over 9000 views in the last six months from all around the world. It has a 5 star rating and has been selected as a favourite by YouTube users many times. An example of a particularly gratifying comment is this one: ‘great video; thank you very much for a simple to understand component breakdown of the process!’ This type of comment assures us that we have achieved our aim with this video.

It was intended to provide a useful resource which explained how all the bits in a HPLC system come together to enable HPLC analysis but it was also an opportunity to try out our new concept for online training. Stretching our minds back to university days we remembered that being at a lecture and having something explained to you was much better in terms of retaining the information than trying to make sense of the notes later, even if the notes were very good. A one hour lecture could take as much as 3 or more hours to get to grips with on your own. We tested this theory a little further by using a poll on the MTS blog where we asked:

Which of the following two methods of learning do you prefer?
1. Reading well written notes on the topic
2. Watching a video which explains the topic

The response was overwhelmingly for option 2; watching a video. Hardly scientific research but still adding to the overall theory that having something explained to you verbally is preferable, even without opportunities for questions.

Our new online training solution, UTrain, consists of training videos which are similar to ‘A Brief Guide to HPLC instruments’ but contain further information. The videos are supported by exercises which can be undertaken by an individual or as part of a group. Fully completed solutions for these exercises is provided. The training is finished off with an e-learning review/assessment which tests the learning. On successful completion of the assessment a certificate is awarded which is recognised by the Royal Society of Chemistry for the purposes of continuing professional development.

UTrain is available as a subscription service which can be purchased by your laboratory. It consists of a series of modules which are available separately, thus you can choose the training that is needed in your lab. The first four modules are available now on the topic of basic HPLC.

Contact us for more information, or, if you would like to arrange a free trial of UTrain so that you can try it out for yourself.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

HPLC calculator for pressure conversion

A resource for chromatographers

Last month we gave away a HPLC calculator for working out column equilibration times. This month we are pleased to announce that the calculator has been updated to include converting pressure values into different units. Click here to access the calculator; it will open as an Excel document. The directions for how to use the calculator are provided on the spreadsheet.