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9 Reasons to switch to Electronic Lab Notebooks

Electronic lab notebooks (ELNs) were created to solve a number of limitations that scientists face when using traditional paper notebooks to track the progress of their research. Nonetheless, academic and government labs have not significantly shifted from traditional lab notebooks. On the other hand, about 1/3rd of the biopharmaceutical industry has reported that it has adopted the electronic notebook as its method for recording and maintaining data.

Though the familiarity of paper lab notebooks makes them attractive to scientists, many other reported advantages, such as portability, ease of use, and ability to include non-text images and drawing, are now capabilities of electronic lab notebooks as well. ELNs also have a number of added benefits that traditional paper notebooks do not have. So without further ado, here are 10 advantages of electronic lab notebooks over paper lab notebooks:

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Annotate images in Labguru

Requested by many users, Labguru now supports image annotations. No matter where your image belongs - whether in a document, milestone, protocol or an experiment's result - you can now quickly annotate it. Draw attention and better document what is seen.

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We know that you generate tons of images, now it is easier to embed these and draw / write on them, highlighting key features. 

Once you annotate your images, you can download the annotated file or the original:

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Also annotated images will appear on your timeline, pdf reports for projects and experiments. 

If you've already uploaded images to your Labguru account, try annotating one now. Or learn more about Labguru ELN.

Happy annotating!

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Scientific Journals - Who Gets Authorship Credit?

The seed of scientific publication was planted back in the 17th century by the Royal Society's first secretary, Henry Oldenburg, who founded and edited the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society journal. In those times scientists tended to conduct research independently and thus the crediting of ownership was straightforward. Today, with globalization, advanced technologies, more than 25,000 scientific journals, and 6 million scientists, competition is fierce and science has become an arena of both collaborations and rivalry. Scientists are measured by their scientific output (publications) and their respective rank among other publications (journal impact factor). The "publish or perish" phrase is heard along the lab corridors and pushes students and researchers to work harder, search for solutions to technical difficulties and forge intra- and inter laboratory collaborations. Thus the number of single author publications declines and the issue of authorship and credits takes place over scientific passion.

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Research Task Management With Labguru

When it comes to running research smoothly, one trick is to verify at least one day ahead of conducting an experiment that you’ve got all the reagents you'll need. Otherwise, you will step into the lab all smiles, put on your lab coat, fresh new latex gloves and bang your head against the wall for not having enough autoclave ddWater or fresh buffers. Or realize someone else scheduled the centrifuge for the whole day. You just need to remember those things in advance, that’s all.

Since it likely happens a lot when you have so many other things on your mind, it would be nice if someone else would do the planning, the remembering and the reminding. I can’t offer a robot to do all this planning, but I can offer a little help from Labguru.

 

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Open Science: Who Owns Your Work?

Go back to your lab notebook to experiments you worked on 3 or 4 months ago. Are they properly documented? YES, say you. Well, I ask that you give your notebook to a fellow lab member let him figure it out - don’t help. Ask him questions about your experiments: Why did you do it? What were the controls? What are the results? How would he interpret them?

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6 Common Order Management Frustrations in the Lab

There are few places as dynamic and constantly evolving as a modern research laboratory.  Projects are added or amended while others are discontinued, personnel come and go as students graduate and postdocs move on to other endeavors, and most importantly, specimens, reagents and other samples are in a continuous cycle of depletion and renewal.  Maintaining viable stocks of research supplies is one of the great challenges, and keys, to running a successful lab.  Without them, scientists simply couldn’t perform their experiments.  Yet order and management remains one of the most ubiquitous frustrations in labs, large and small.  From our interactions and discussions with scientists at conferences all over the world, here are some of the biggest areas of concern:

1. General Inventory Management

Different specialties have different inventory requirements—a life sciences lab might have to manage lots of specimen and biochemistry reagents, while a traditional synthetic chemistry lab might need to organize libraries of compounds and starting chemicals. Irrespective of scientific discipline, labs often have a hard time organizing inventory and keeping it up to date.  Do you organize on an Excel spreadsheet?  An inter-laboratory software program?  How do you integrate new orders with existing samples and keep inventory completely up to date?

2. Sample Duplicates

Especially in very large (or industry) labs, this can be a common problem.  Certain subgroups or experimenters might require their own pools of a certain reagent even if it’s a common lab reagent.  Other times, paranoid researchers insist on having their own stocks of everything to make sure they’re kept properly sterile.  Either way, duplication of common reagent stocks, especially without updating databases, can make tracking supplies difficult.

3. Expiration Dates and Life Cycles.

This is a huge concern for life sciences labs, where almost all daily reagents, buffers, enzymes and antibodies must be up to date for optimal results.  How often have we all reached in the back of the freezer for the next step of an incubation only to realize that the sample is no longer good?  This is wasteful and causes time delays in lost experimentation.  Ideally, it would be great to pair expiration dates with general inventory management, so that locating a necessary reagent or specimen would also tell you if it’s up to date.  Furthermore, if you know an expiration date is rapidly approaching for a necessary component, you can easily reorder it in time.  Tracking life cycles of laboratory chemicals and other reagents also includes waste and disposal, which can become much more cumbersome (and dangerous!) if they are allowed to sit long after they expire.

4. Depleted Supplies and Special Orders/MTAs

One of the most frustrating things to any lab manager is not having command over how many materials the group has in stock and when it is time to reorder.  More often than not, the first time a manager is made aware of a need for more of a particular reagent is when a furious lab member is demanding to know why it wasn’t ordered days or weeks ago.  Lab communication between managers and scientists is an essential aspect of maintaining a constant supply of reagents and specimen, particularly if a certain sample was obtained via collaboration, a rare order, or required a time-consuming MTA to facilitate.

5. Communal Buffers and Solutions

Labs will often save money by making their own stocks of common buffers, agar plates, LB broth, cell culture media and other consumables.  But just as with ordering, improper lab communication often means depleted group stocks (always on the day you have to do an experiment!), lack of clear guidelines as to whose responsibility it is to make more, and problems with expiration and quality control testing of stocks for viability.

6. Non-Adherence to Laboratory Database

Naturally, all of the organizational frustrations described above are eschewed by the implementation of a laboratory-wide management system.  Unfortunately, many labs have a difficult time enforcing uniform participation, either because the system is too complicated to use, too expensive, or isn’t easily integrated into all personnel machines, especially with many grad students and post-docs owning their own machines.

Based on our recent lab survey, over 50% of labs waste money on duplicate orders, with the vast majority of researchers feeling that their labs are not efficiently managed.  PIs end up spending precious grant money on wasteful orders, laboratory managers feel overwhelmed with an inefficient system and angry scientists wanting to know where their materials are.  And frustrated grad students and postdocs cannot get experiments done or papers published in a timely manner.

A viable solution (and we're being like, totally unbiased here) is Labguru. We recently launched a new lab inventory management module, which lets researchers search for products from a database of over 80,000 reagents, as well as use a shopping list to place requests, approvals and monitor pending orders.  

And please let us know if you have any other major order and management frustrations for us to add to our list by leaving us a comment below.  We’re always looking for ways to help scientists by making a better product so you can do more science!

5 Dos and Don’ts of Specimen Storage

As a follow-up to our recent Documenting Specimen Storage post, here are some key specimen storage tips:

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1.  Keep cross-contamination in mind when storing your specimen samples.  If you work in a lab where researchers are going to be working with a combination of bacteria, yeast, cell cultures and viruses, make sure to store each so that cross-contamination is not a possibility in incubators, freezers, and tissue culture hoods.  Use a labeling system to dedicate specific lab areas.

2.  Use an electronic management system for tracking and managing specimen to streamline collections throughout your lab.  Use a centralized web-based system, such as Labguru’s cloud management system, to create a uniform database for all researchers to upload, track, change and label samples.

3.  Consider digitizing your organization and labeling of samples with barcoded or numerically based identification system.  Did you know that patient-related sample mislabeling (in both academic and hospital settings) cost an average of $712 per mistake?  Research labs dependent on large libraries and expensive cell lines for screenings stand to lose even more.  Digital labeling systems based on computers and automated tracking will largely reduce human-related laboratory errors.

4.  Consider professional storage, tracking and management for your sample collections, especially if they are large libraries that are expensive to procure and/or copy. Specialized companies will assign dedicated management teams to track new samples and manage current collections, even handling monitoring of freezers and chain-of-custody storage.  If your samples are of high importance, are rare, or expensive, it’s worth a try to leave them in professional hands.

5.  Establish strict, laboratory-wide guidelines for specimen collection and sample storage practices.  There are numerous templates from other labs posted online as a resource guide.  Enforce uniform training in the lab, and have managers and group leaders periodically ensure guidelines are followed.


7 Ways You Can Be a More Efficient Researcher

No matter how much support they receive from their PI or manager, the individual researcher at the bench is still responsible for their output and furthering their scientific career. Maintaining efficient work habits can not only reduce the stress of the demanding pace of research, but actually result in higher quality and quantity of data. Here are some simple, effective tips that you can try right away, one at a time or in concert, to increase your efficiency in the lab.

1.  Clean Working Areas and Benchtops

In science, there is an old saying that a messy bench (or hood) is a productive one.  But the reality is that a cluttered workspace not only decreases your ability to find and organize materials, it could even lead to sample contamination.  Clean workspaces are also a common component of most environmental health and safety laboratory inspection checklists.  Each night before you go home, tidy up your bench—put away chemicals and other reagents, place dirty glassware in the sink, and throw away badly soiled benchtop napkins.  Organize papers, notes, and unsorted data piling up on your desk.  A small step each day might do a lot to increase long-term productivity and research efficiency.

2.  Start Every Day With a To-Do List

There is nothing more stressful, especially as a young researcher managing multiple projects, than coming to the lab and having so much to do that you don’t even know where to begin.  Daily to-do lists are an essential component of optimizing time management and organization.  Start your day by assessing priorities, progress, and noting down daily tasks to compose a smart to-do list.  This will help you reduce feeling overwhelmed by your workload, help focus your efforts and keep track of progress, and create a record of your work for troubleshooting and group meetings.

3.  Collaboration Leads to Innovation

While you and you alone are responsible for your projects and experiments, science is inherently a collaborative field.  Instead of beating your head against a wall, or repeating experiments that clearly aren’t working, take advantage of your labmates’ and collaborators’ experience and expertise.  Review protocols and steps to ensure that you’re performing experiments efficiently.  Talking to labmates and sharing setbacks as well as triumphs in group meetings will ensure wasting as little time as possible on dead-end projects and quicker diagnosis of setbacks.

4.  Outsourcing:  Sometimes, Time Does Equal Money

Making the most of grant money and resources is a constant source of consternation for laboratory managers and PIs, especially during tough economic times and downturns in funding.  Certain expenditures, however, can save lab members time and streamline their research.  If you run a large molecular biology lab, for example, purchasing large consumables like prepoured antibiotic plates or growth media might be more efficient (and accurate) than relying on lab members to produce them.  Likewise, you may find that data analysis or a technique that would take significant time for a researcher to learn can just as easily be outsourced to an expert collaborator or company.

5.  Work Less Hours, Not More

This seems like contradictory advice, given the fact that academia is notorious for requiring long work hours at all research levels.  However, the latest research on time management and workplace effectiveness shows that working fewer hours can actually result in greater productivity.  One of my graduate school classmates confirmed that nothing incurred greater efficiency in her research output than being forced into working fewer hours due to having a child.  Think about it.  Of the 12+ hours you work in the lab, how many are spent actually working? Record a daily analysis of your workday for a week to see if you could restructure your workday to eliminate unnecessary time expenditures or increase productivity in the lab.

6.  Use Project Management Software to Organize

There is no greater tool for streamlining lab-wide productivity and efficiency than implementing a laboratory information management system (LIMS).  Not only can a LIMS system help automate laboratory tasks and digitize data and reagent storage, it can increase accuracy of results through analysis and communication tools, and eliminate wasting of resources through unnecessary or duplicate orders.  In addition, most modern LIMS systems are cloud-based and easily accessible by all lab members via individual internet log-ins.  With all of the aforementioned benefits, helping scientists make the most out of their research potential seems like a no-brainer!

7.  Faithful Daily Record Keeping

“I’ll update my laboratory notebook tomorrow.  I promise.”  These are the famous last words of every researcher.  Before you know it, a month’s worth of gel pictures, charts and experiment notes have piled up on your desk, resulting in an overwhelming amount of updating and even less impetus to do it.  It’s a vicious cycle.  As menial and unpleasant as the task may seem, updating your laboratory notebook, reference archives and notes on a regular basis is an important practice for maintaining research accuracy, noting down important details and results as they happen and saving time in the long term.  None of the above ideas for improving efficiency can be properly utilized without a commitment to faithful recordkeeping.  Academic studies have even been conducted on the best practices for individuals and labs.  Take advantage of digital notebooks and reference software such as EndNote to update research progress faster and make referencing painless for drafting publications and theses.

Do you have any additional helpful tips based on your own practices?  Has your laboratory implemented other useful time-saving tips that we should know about?  Let us know by commenting below.  And please let us know how our suggestions work out for you.

How to Maintain Ongoing Experiments During Vacation

You have worked hard designing your experiment.  You have your cultures ready and your specimen are growing perfectly.  Then you remember that you are supposed to take your family vacation next week when you should be collecting long-awaited data on your specimen and keeping track of your experiments.  This leaves you wondering how to reconcile taking a vacation and not sacrificing months of work by stopping experiments and data collection.  The perfect solution is an online monitoring system allowing you to electronically track the progress of your research even when you are unable to be in the lab.

Delegating Lab Tasks

Many scientists have used spreadsheets to keep track of specimen - when they were started, when they expire, and to make notes on their research progress.  While this solution is somewhat functional in the lab, it is ultimately impossible to perform complex data entry into your lab computer and monitor ongoing experiments when you are away on vacation.  There are many ways to track what is happening in your lab even when you cannot be in the office, but a spreadsheet is both difficult to manage remotely and not convenient for access by multiple project collaborators or laboratory personnel.

One solution to maintaining experiments during vacation is to delegate some of your responsibilities.  Many tasks related to your experiments involve observation and data entry.  If you have a lab technician, you can have the tech make your observations and record the results even when you are away.  If required, that same tech can also send you your results as they are recorded so you can provide feedback, track inconsistencies in your colleague’s observation and recording methods, and offer real-time changes in protocol and experiment design.

Keeping Track of the Lab While Away

Download BioData's Vacation Checklist

Some of the most arduous tasks in the lab revolve around the management and structure of the lab itself.  You must keep track of more than your specimens, but of everything in the laboratory (such as protocols, reagents, ordering supplies, managing collaborations, etc.) The question many scientists face exceeds how to take care of experiments during vacation time, but how to take care of the management of the lab and all of the other details described above that must be monitored while the scientist is away.

BioData’s online management system is an optimal tool in organizing your lab, tracking research samples and progress, tracking your supplies and what materials and resources you have on hand and what you may need to order.  This type of seamless laboratory organization can increase the efficiency of the lab by cutting down on paperwork, save money by preventing unnecessary supply ordering or repetitive experiments, and make your lab infinitely more competitive by facilitating collaboration and increasing cohesion in communication.

For any scientist worried about taking care of experiments, reagents and specimen during vacation the solutions are clear-cut and easy to implement:  having a trusted collaborator or technician monitor data observation and results, planning ahead to order supplies, forge collaborations and arrange data collection and most importantly of all, signing up for BioData’s revolutionary, web based, affordable system will allow you to keep track of everything that happens in your lab remotely.