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So You Need Help with Tissue Culture? 6 Tips and Best Questions to Ask to Find the Right Consultant for You

You are a nursery, pre-existing lab, or business executive tasked with finding a new tissue culture consultant. Where do you begin? How can you tell if the person you are interviewing is going to be the one to help lead you to victory? The way they answer these questions will not only show you their experience, but also their integrity, collaborative skills, and eagerness to work with you.

What is their training? (Academic, Industry, Workshops, or at home?)

Workshops and learning at home are a great launching point for a beginner or hobbyist, but cannot be substituted for years of practical experience. If you are seeking tissue culture advice to supply small quantities of clean mother stock and not supplement production, a consultant with only academic experience may be able to provide you with the basic training you need only if they were able to practice tissue culture throughout their studies. If they only participated in a semester class it is advised to look elsewhere. Great questions to ask include who were your mentors? Did you work in a lab during your studies? Have you published or presented research at conferences? If you are seeking support for industry production it is highly advised to seek a consultant with both academic and industry experience. A consultant with both will understand the balance between research and scaled production, common pitfalls when scaling, and best strategies to gain efficiency without compromising quality. 

What is the consultant’s specific area of expertise? Does their area of expertise match what you want them to do for you? Ask if the consultant has done similar work for other groups. Choosing a consultant with the exact area of expertise you want can increase the quality of the work and may reduce unnecessary cost. Problems with consultants often arise when they work in areas in which they are unfamiliar.

For all services you are contracting the consultant for, dig into their experience and get specific. Have they physically performed this service repeatedly, and do they have a track record of accomplishing the services they have listed as offerings? Ask for any data they have, contamination rates, rooting success, failure to initiate rates, previous clients, etc. 

***This will be one of the most enlightening parts of the interview. There are multiple consultants in the tissue culture space (especially cannabis tissue culture) who have very minimal experience performing the tasks you will need of them. Be wise and ask questions. Remember, upper management leadership of tissue culture teams does not equate to the true, hands-on tissue culture experience you need. You will only know if the candidate has significant plant facing lab experience, and how much by asking. On that same note, workshops and at home learning are great to begin, but will never provide the breadth of experience necessary to advise a production lab. 

Ask for references. Specifically ask what the consultant did for the reference. Was the consultant’s work the same work you want the consultant to do for you? If it matches, the reference can provide you valuable information about the consultant’s work. If it doesn’t match, the reference may be of limited value to you.

Specifically identify the deliverables you want the consultant to address. We all know the adage "If you don't ask, you don't get it". Now, the all too real situation many are in when looking to start a lab, what if you don't know what to specify? Carving out time to investigate with a knowledgeable, highly experienced tissue culture scientist ensures you are identifying the services needed for a successful operation. If deliverables are not specific, you run the risk that the results will be too general to be useful. Specification is important for outlining the cost of your contract as well, and will protect you from either not getting the applicable deliverables you need or, a consultant trying to charge more because deliverables were vague to begin with.

Accountability for deliverables:What are they promising to deliver and what is their plan if they fail to deliver? To the maximum extent possible, reserve the right to terminate the relationship. Identify what constitutes non-performance of the contract. Stipulate the consequences for non-performance.

I hope this guideline is hopeful to anyone in need of tissue culture consulting! Stay tuned for our next installment “How to get the most out of your time with your consultant”. 

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