The primary management objective of the Computational Biology Core Facility is to maximally advance research and education related to core expertise for our affiliated members. The organization of the facility is predicated on the assumption that computational techniques will be increasingly important for state-of-the-art biological research. We also recognize that students, faculty, and staff within the institutions that the core serves have a wide range of existing expertise, needs and resources. For this reason, the core use policy is designed to be as organizationally flexible and adaptive as possible.
It is important to minimize barriers to use of core facilities, especially for new projects and laboratory groups just learning to incorporate computational techniques into their research. For this reason, the Directors of the facility will continue to seek funding to provide, as far as possible, open and free access. At the same time, we recognize both the need and the value inherent in receiving direct support from research groups making heavy or central use of the core facility.
The transition from free use to pay-as-you-go use is probably best understood in the context of the three tiered level of support around which the facility is organized and managed:
Tier 1: Tier one support refers to use basic use of software and hardware with minimal expenditure of staff resources. Software and hardware are made freely available to anyone with a need. The facility maintains a large array of software of general interest to the community. Some of this software is free, while some requires yearly site licenses. With fee for use software, we evaluate the likely general usefulness of the software and invest accordingly. We are particularly mindful of opportunities to maximize the value of the investment across institutions. Core purchases have already saved individual laboratories multiple thousands of dollars. Occasionally users request additional software to support specific lab groups. Freely available software is obtained and installed at no charge. If there is a charge for the software, we pay in full, partially pay, or request payment from the requesting lab based on our assessment of the likely general use of the software as well as the ability of the requesting laboratory to pay.
Tier 2: Tier 2 involves training beyond basic installation and creation of user accounts. Core facility staff organizes educational workshops focused on specific software packages and/or computational techniques. Workshop topics are established based on the perceived needs of the community by the staff and occasionally on requests from users. In many cases experts are brought in from outside San Antonio to lead these workshops. To date, all workshops have been free and the expectation is that most or all will continue to be free.
Tier 3: Tier 3 involves direct investment of staff or affiliated faculty expertise to support research. At this level of support, a staff member participates directly in computational efforts in individual laboratories as full collaborators. The initial establishment of Tier 3 efforts is not explicitly dependent on the prior existence of funds to pay for the service. However, as these collaborations frequently result in the generation of new grant proposals, we then work with PIs to include support for the facility in those grants. An important measure of the success of the facility is how well it incubates new research directions and contributes to successful new grant applications. PIs whose projects are heavily dependent on the CBI services are expected to include support for facility staff, software and hardware in their grants. Well funded PIs who make heavy use of core services are also expected to support the facility. The ability to provide intensive Tier 3 support at little or no cost depends on core funding.
Although at present the facility is not used by businesses or outside organizations, we anticipate the possibility of such use at any of the three levels identified. Decisions about fees for services for outside groups will be assessed on a case by case basis. At no time, however, will the ability of an outside organization to pay for services exclude use by affiliated organizations (at present UTSA and the UTHSCSA). The principle focus and the top priority for use will always be given to members of affiliated organizations.
In summary, the Computational Biology Core Facility is not designed or intended to be a profit center. The facility is constructed as a collaborative, intellectual / scientific enterprise that focuses on supporting research and incubating new research directions. While we expect and encourage our users, especially those with the means to do so to contribute to core operation, we also anticipate that core services will always be subsidized by sources of support obtained by the directors themselves, as well as by the institutions served.