Unified administration for the University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Science
Making the jump to QReserve was easy
The Faculty of Science at the University of Sheffield produces world-leading and internationally excellent research supported by world-class equipment and personnel. To make full use of and understand its capacity, the Faculty of Science uses QReserve to manage and track its resources and activity.
Researchers from around the world come to the Faculty to conduct research across its seven departments spanning biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and psychology. These include around 30 research facilities which are open to students and researchers from the University of Sheffield and other universities as well. Their research, 90% of which has been rated as world-leading or internationally excellent, is helping tackle great environmental challenges, understand disease and behaviour, advance robotic technologies, map distant galaxies, and much more.
These researchers are training new experts as well. More than 4000 undergraduate and masters students, and more than 600 researchers completing doctoral training, gain access to the Faculty’s expertise and facilities as they learn state-of-the-art research techniques and complete their own projects.
The Faculty is committed to building a sustainable, technologically advanced home to support their world-class research and teaching.
When Nina Cardinal started as the Director of Operations for the Faculty she recognized its capacity and was driven to make sure all facilities were well run and their activity well understood.
Beforehand, however, the Faculty had no unified administrative system. Researchers relied on paper logbooks or other disparate platforms for managing facilities, often without the administration’s knowing, and lacked a way to integrate the data. This situation hindered the potential of the Faculty and posed practical problems as well.
Nina had to understand the capacity and activity of facilities to determine how to manage their resources. Some equipment is financed through UK government grants and must be shared within and beyond the Faculty. Indeed UK universities are encouraged in principal to share facilities with each other. Without a comprehensive understanding of capacity and activity, however, Nina could not properly determine which facilities to promote beyond the university or which were running already at capacity.
The lack of a unified system also proved problematic for financial management. With disparate systems in place it was challenging for researchers and administration to track usage and billing, and invoices were often late or inaccurate.
Nina wanted a unified administrative system to manage the Faculty’s capacity and track its activity, and QReserve was that system. QReserve’s management platform provided the necessary capability to schedule resources, manage students and researchers, and report on activity. Nina also appreciated the ability of QReserve’s team to work with her and her colleagues to implement adjustments to the system according to their needs.
Getting started was easy. Nina and Matt Doxey, the Faculty’s IT Officer, first met with facility managers to review the system. Then facilities small and large were able start with QReserve as Matt helped set up sites, resources, and users, and helped finetune each facility’s settings. Each facility had unique needs and methods. Some facilities, for example, wanted only administrators to access QReserve and schedule time with resources, while other facilities opened their QReserve sites to all potential users in the Faculty. QReserve supported this flexibility.
“The flexibility was fantastic,” says Matt, and once the initial setup was done the researchers were able to use QReserve smoothly without questions or complaints.
Darren Robinson is the Facility Manager for the Faculty’s Wolfson Light Microscopy Facility (LMF) and has adopted QReserve for managing the LMF’s activity.
The LMF provides advanced optical microscopy and imaging resources and services for students and researchers. Their microscopes range from confocal to widefield and from deconvolution to super-resolution light microscopes, and their services include training on equipment and expertise on selecting systems for experiments.
As Facility Manager, Darren oversees all activity in the LMF and is always studying new techniques and technologies in microscopy to provide guidance to the researchers. He will guide researchers to the best systems for their projects and also recommend new technologies for the LMF, considering the state of the technology and the LMF’s specific activity.
Beforehand he had relied on standard calendar and spreadsheet applications, along with paper logbooks, to oversee the LMF’s activity. Students and researchers would track their activity in the logbooks, and at the end of every month Darren would review each book and tally up each user’s activity in a spreadsheet. Darren spent two full days every month tallying up usage.
Darren wanted to move toward an electronic system to control the booking of multiple pieces of equipment by 250+ users, track usage and generate statistics, and provide monthly billing reports for individual users and user groups. Darren and his colleagues, however, wanted to find a sure solution that suited their facility well, as they recognized the transition can be laborious and difficult to revert from.
“It’s a big jump,” says Darren, “and we wanted to make sure we made the right jump.”
After reviewing QReserve with his colleagues, QReserve looked straightforward and well suited to the LMF’s needs. QReserve was the right jump.
And making the jump to QReserve was easy. Darren sent a list of resources to Matt who helped him transfer all his data in one easy step into QReserve. Once set up, LMF members had an easy time switching methods and quickly became happy with the new system.
Darren uses QReserve for booking equipment, tracking maintenance, generating billing reports, and viewing usage statistics. The LMF has over 400 people listed on QReserve, with over 250 active users and 30 to 50 core users. Many users are Principal Investigators who do not themselves reserve time on equipment but use QReserve to monitor their students’ activity. Even with all these users, Darren has no trouble managing activity and spends no time tallying it up every month. QReserve automatically tallies activity and prints it into reports for him and the Faculty’s Financial team.
Darren finds QReserve’s statistics helpful when planning activity in the LMF. He can, for example, determine which microscopes to train new users on. Some microscopes have the same functionality but are different models and require different training. By considering the users’ needs and the LMF’s current activity, he can steer users to the right microscopes to spread out usage of resources and maximize efficiency.
Darren also finds QReserve’s statistics particularly helpful for investment decisions. The LMF’s microscopes are costly, some worth upwards of £500,000, and the LMF needs to make careful decisions on acquiring new equipment, ensuring it will be of high value. Darren can now present precise data on which types of microscopes are most active, and when they are most active, to aid in planning these investments.
With QReserve taking care of administration, Darren and his team can concentrate on working with students and researchers to help them get the most out of the LMF’s resources.
Chris J. Hill is the Electron Microscopy Officer for the Faculty’s Electron Microscopy Unit (EMU) and has adopted QReserve for managing the EMU’s activity.
The EMU provides a range of facilities including transmission and scanning electron microscopes and state-of-the-art instruments that permit cryoelectron microscopial examination of protein structures.
Chris provides two forms of access to resources: full-serve and self-serve. With the full-serve option a researcher will request the EMU’s services for a project, and the EMU will complete all the microscopy and analytic work. Chris can easily manage all internal scheduling using his own QReserve account.
With the self-serve option Chris will get users started with QReserve. He will introduce users to the equipment, provide training if necessary, register them in QReserve, and send a welcome email outlining charges and usage details. Researchers can then access and use the equipment on their own, though Chris will first have to approve any requests. He will either approve the request or suggest another time. Or sometimes users prefer Chris make the reservations on their behalf, which is easy for Chris to do. Thus, Chris will coordinate full-serve and self-serve work in QReserve to ensure maximum efficiency of resources, and in cases of self-serve he can still control access to the resources.
The EMU is centring itself on QReserve as the place to access resources and information. The EMU has linked safety information and their code of conduct with their resources on QReserve, making it easier for users to access everything they need from one spot. The EMU’s holistic approach to registering users and informing them on safety satisfies the requirements of the University’s Health and Safety Department and has streamlined their processes.
Chris also saves time tracking activity and maintenance in QReserve. He used to spend one week every month completing invoices for the Financial team. Now QReserve automatically tracks the EMU’s activity and produces reports for Finance. Chris can run a copy for his records, easily confirm any figures for Finance, and review activity and maintenance records as needed.
Rachel is the Finance Manager for the Faculty of Science, and she and her team are responsible for all billing across the Faculty.
In the past Rachel and her team felt the frustration of delayed or inaccurate billing reports. Billing was often delayed or inaccurate because it was tedious and time-consuming when facility managers relied on paper booking systems. For this reason, along with the busy researchers, Rachel wanted an electronic system to simplify and speed up the process.
QReserve’s automatic billing reports solved that problem. Facility managers no longer worry about tallying activity or even sending reports to Finance. The Finance team themselves can access each facility’s site in QReserve, download reports, and make updates as needed, for example adding or changing account numbers. Then they simply upload these reports into their financial system. Billing is now timely and accurate, and the Finance team can trust that funds are charged for the appropriate periods.
Rachel and her team also appreciate that all the information remains in QReserve, which is very helpful in cases of audits. If the Faculty is ever audited they will be able to show exactly where their data came from, something which used to be difficult but now is easy.
Facilities from five out of seven departments in the Faculty are using QReserve for managing their resources. Each facility maintains autonomy in running their operations while providing a single, consistent reporting system to the Faculty’s administration. Nina continues to encourage adoption of QReserve to further ease administration, as well as the process of resource access in general, as students and researchers become comfortable seeing the same system across facilities. QReserve has also improved this process by integrating with the university-wide login system.
Thus the Faculty has achieved a more unified administrative system, benefiting the researchers, the IT department, the Finance department, and Nina as well. Nina can now oversee and understand the Faculty’s capacity and activity, and better decide how to manage and promote the Faculty’s resources.
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