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Many laboratories and institutions do not have the background or knowledge to teach their employees special skills related to flow or image cytometry. It is especially difficult to learn the newest techniques, since most formal courses, which otherwise are extremely helpful, primarily teach the basic skills and focus on few, rather established methods. The researchers that enter the field, after purchasing instruments, often want to obtain the training in selected methodologies that may be immediately useful for their projects. There is indisputable need, therefore, for the mechanism of training in cytometry that will provide a continuous opportunity to learn new skills.

At the ISAC XVI Congress a new educational/training program, which received the name "Specialty Training & Education Program" (STEP) in Cytometry, was initiated. Within a framework of this program the continuing education program in cytometry is organized by the selected par excellence laboratories that are willing to provide training in particular methodologies.

The training may assume a variety of forms. The participating laboratory may accept the trainee for a week or two, to join the team and learn a particularly methodology in a typical, informal "on the job training" form. It may wait until a group of 2-4 persons will be willing to take the training at the same time, and prepare more formal programs for such small groups. The laboratory may also offer a tutorial course on particular methodology. Other tutorial methods may be tested, such as "leasing" an expert, who may then spend several days teaching and demonstrating the methodology in other laboratories. Several participating laboratories may organize a formal course, teaching the basic or more specialized methods.

The role of the STEP Committees is in: (1) identifying the laboratories which are capable of providing outstanding training, technical advice, and expertise in particular fields of cytometry and are willing to do so; (2) assessing the quality of training, and (3) making the information on this program widely available.

The European and US STEP Committees already have been established. Several outstanding laboratories have been identified and invited to participate. The laboratories which accepted the invitation were asked to prepare a description of the programs which they are willing to teach, the facilities, the accommodations for the trainees, and other relevant details. This description is included in the present STEP directory.

We envisage that initially the program will be rather informal, although the training, from the very beginning, will be supervised by the STEP Committee. Trainees will be requested to evaluate the training program they undertook through review questionnaires. Periodically, the member(s) of the Committee may inspect the participating laboratories. We anticipate that at a later stage the laboratories will prepare a Practicum, a detailed description of their methods and procedures. After evaluation by the Committee, the Practicum will be offered to trainees. A collection of a variety of methodologies prepared for the Practicum by different laboratories may be then edited by the STEP Committee and published and/or be available at a nominal fee. With time, some laboratories may offer formal accreditation for training of special procedures. This, of course, will require additional preparation and establishment of the means for testing the proficiency of the training.

The instrument or reagent manufacturing companies, which otherwise themselves provide the training as part of the sales, may be willing to offer vouchers for STEP training, instead. Such an arrangement may be preferred by many customers wanting to obtain the training that is specialized to their need. The reagent manufacturing companies, on the other hand, may offer the vouchers to teach methods that utilize their kits, thus promoting sales of their reagents.

One of the advantages of this program is the availability of the STEP Speciality Areas Directory It is helpful not only to those who are interested in undertaking the training, but also to everyone who needs to find an expert in a particular field or methodology, e.g., with a request to help to solve some immediate problem, seeking his advice, invitation to give a seminar, etc.

We are pleased to offer you this STEP Directory. We greatly appreciate the acceptance by the invited Laboratories to participate in this program. Their presence in this Directory is not only an evidence of their excellence, but also of their unselfishness and willingness to share their knowledge and expertise with colleagues.

Zbigniew Darzynkiewicz
J. Paul Robinson

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