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What is a Field Application Scientist?

Have you ever installed new lab instruments or applications which didn’t quite deliver the results you expected?

Ensuring your hardware and software are fit for purpose is critical to obtaining scientific value. 

Consequently, Field Application Scientists (FASs) play a fundamental role in ensuring you get the most out of your instrument outputs and workflows. But how so? And why do you need a FAS to be an extension of your team?

Field Application Scientists first and foremost provide scientific advice and assist laboratory teams in the installation of instruments and design of scientific applications. 

Primarily, FASs will be involved in the very early interactions of the purchasing process with a lab service provider. The FAS will want to understand what you are trying to achieve scientifically so they can provide tailored recommendations to help you achieve your research goals. 

Ultimately, scientific success will be achieved through the design of the application, instrumentation and analysis. Therefore, the more information you can share about your goals up front, the more customized your recommendations will be.

As part of the purchasing process, the FAS will be responsible for pre-demonstrations which allow you to jointly create a customized plan for your demo in order to get an accurate preview of how products will improve your laboratory’s workflows. 

Following this, the FAS, alongside an engineer, will carry out the installation and validation of the instrumentation on site and provide the appropriate training to your team on usage. This ensures that all potential end users have the opportunity to gain experience with the instrument and application using their own samples, with the FAS on hand to provide guidance. 

The FAS will work with you to prepare protocols that suit your needs for your specific application. They will also analyze the procedures and provide recommendations on how to design protocols to ensure the optimal level of usage. 

Perhaps the most important part of the FASs job is to build strong working relationships with customers. They strive to enhance customer experience and create an effective evaluation loop, allowing customers the opportunity to share comments and feedback about products and services.

What are the benefits of having an FAS as an extension of your team?

If the above wasn’t enough to convince you why you need a FAS on your team, these benefits certainly will.

There is often confusion over the responsibilities of the FAS team and engineers. However, it’s important to note that they do in fact play different roles. While an engineer has an engineering background, FASs will have a scientific background. 

The work of an engineer is critical for installation and maintenance of lab instruments. Without their technical support, lab teams would struggle to achieve optimal usage of instruments. They will ensure the set up of the machine you have purchased is configured correctly and will be on hand on a future basis to provide assistance. 

The FAS, on the other hand, will ensure that the protocols for the application you collectively devise with the lab service provider, are designed with science in mind. 

FASs will often be PhD-level scientists, specializing in certain areas ranging from genomics to structural biology. The breadth of a FAS team’s training and expertise is a fantastic benefit as it gives you confidence to pursue innovative ideas. 

The advantages of having both an engineer and FAS working together is that they can look at the same scenario from different perspectives—an engineering perspective and a scientific perspective. As a result, they can find solutions to problems quickly, with limited interruption.

View this video outlining how one of our Field Application Scientists are helping customers apply SPT Labtech instruments in COVID-19 research

Typically, the FAS will work with you in the sales process to understand what you aim to achieve from a scientific standpoint. This enables them to recommend instruments and applications that will be fit for purpose. As the FAS has quite often previously worked at the bench themselves, they are well positioned to provide added scientific value, in addition to the assistance given by dedicated Sales Managers. 

This ensures that science flows through every aspect of your interactions with potential providers to guarantee that applications are up to scientific standards.

"With support from the SPT Labtech Field Applications Team and engineers we have been able to implement the dragonfly crystal which has been invaluable for preparing complex plates for our Agilent RapidFire System. Using the dragonfly crystal, we've been able to easily create plates with concentration gradients of proteins spanning a diverse molecular weight range from insulin to antibodies in a variety of solution compositions that are of value within the Mass Spectrometry community. The dragonfly has allowed us to reach levels of experimental complexity that would have been significantly more challenging without it."

Daniel Vallejo, 4th-Year Graduate Research Assistant, University of Michigan

One of the common questions we are asked at SPT Labtech is ‘Who in the industry is innovating with your products and applications?’

Both in academic research and industry, it’s common for word of mouth and scientific credibility to influence your actions when you want to test novel methods. 

Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of having access to a FAS is that they act as a real life use case. They work with hundreds of companies, instruments, applications and they see how other scientists are pushing the boundaries when it comes to scientific innovation. They are constantly learning and adding new methods to their scientific repertoire.  

For instance, in the field of single cell genomics, a fast-paced area of science which publishes new and improved methods at a rapid rate, the FAS can provide knowledge transfer on how single cell labs can install and use instruments that have the necessary flexibility to adapt to change, as well as establish and customize miniaturized protocols of choice. In this regard, the FAS can contribute reputable guidance and direction on how you can innovate. They can also act as a practical sounding board, should you want to test a theory. 

FASs are masters of troubleshooting. If you have a problem, chances are they have experienced said problem before. As a result, they will likely have the necessary understanding to rectify the issue quickly and with limited negative impact on the day to day running of your lab’s activities.

The FASs responsibility is to guarantee the applications you are using are fit for purpose. In order to do this, they decipher the bottlenecks and obstacles you may be experiencing by actively listening and remaining flexible in their approach. This means you should never hesitate to call on them when you need a shoulder to cry on!  

The FAS role is one of collaboration. They communicate with numerous departments within a lab service organization and supporting the sales team is just one of those areas, as mentioned above.The FASs also build effective relationships and obtain valuable, firsthand feedback from customers so they can report back to research and development teams with common trends. 

Example - Adding functionality based on customer feedback

Take, for example, SPT Labtech’s mosquito instrument. In recent years, there has been a strong demand for automation and volume miniaturization in genomics. As sequencing costs have come down, NGS sample numbers have scaled. Consequently, NGS sample preparation has become a major bottleneck for many applications. 

FASs played an active role in collecting feedback from customers and as a result, the production team has been working on eliminating those bottlenecks and adding useful functionality for these applications, making the instrument even easier to use. This enables scientists to embrace simplicity in the face of workflow complexity.

In this instance, the FAS team readily contributed to improving current products. They also contribute fresh innovation to create new scientific applications which emerge from customer needs. 

FASs will undoubtedly have efficiency in mind when it comes to implementing an application for use on lab instruments. The FAS will provide practical expertise on how to minimize costs, eliminate laborious processes, enhance data quality and preserve sample integrity, all with the intention of boosting efficiency.

Take for example, liquid handling applications for genomics. In an environment where the protection of samples is of the utmost importance, the FAS will help you define and implement the protocol for the application so that the loss of samples is reduced, exposure to the air is decreased and cross contamination with other reagents is avoided. In a lab where there is a high turn around of samples, this is fundamental to increasing efficiency and thus reducing costs. 

The FAS will also put processes in place to secure these efficiencies and cost reductions, enabling you to measure impact and return on investment. Furthermore, the FAS can often find a novel use for an instrument, for purposes other than its intended use, to expand utility  further. In one instance at SPT Labtech, one customer was using the dragonfly crystal screen optimizer and in partnership with the FAS developed assays for mass spectrometry on the same instrument, enabling the customer to achieve their goals with a piece of equipment they already had. 

Key takeaways

A Field Application Scientist (FAS) plays an important role in obtaining and maintaining the best value from your lab instruments and applications. Here is a recap of the benefits of having FASs as an extension of your team when you work with a lab service provider.

  • FASs do not simply stop at ensuring your lab instruments work correctly, they consider the overall design of the applications to ensure they are fit for scientific purpose
  • Everyday they find creative usage of applications for different situations and different labs
  • They have a wealth of scientific knowledge and are at the forefront of innovation, working with hundreds of scientists and groundbreaking methods
  • Supplying your feedback on how applications are being used in your business or research institute is critical as FASs directly contribute to the improvement of existing products and new applications which you can take advantage of in the future