Starting and Maintaining Your First Laboratory (Part 1) - An Essential Checklist

Congratulations!  If you are reading this, it means that you are either a newly minted assistant professor, or well on your way towards becoming one.  Running your own lab is an exciting venture filled with success, discovery, and the opportunity to pursue novel research. With such excitement comes great responsibility, whether in the form of mentoring graduate students, helping postdocs find jobs, publishing a steady stream of research, and securing tenure at your university or research institute.  In addition, the combined logistics of managing startup (and additional grant) funding, ordering supplies and setting up a functional lab, not to mention relocating and finding housing, can be very overwhelming and stressful, to the point of impeding productivity.  But it doesn’t have to be. BioData Ltd., producer of web based laboratory and research management software, believes that lab productivity and researcher happiness boil down to planning, organization, and implementation.  So, with the input of some young professors, our team of writers and scientists have put together a simple and thorough checklist that will act as your framework as you transition into your new laboratory.  Use it to plan every detail several months ahead as you wrap up your postdoc and as a handy reference all the way through the early days of your new lab. Using the checklist will let you shift your focus to what’s really important - producing your first paper as a professor. We have ordered this checklist by important categories and milestones as you transition your current project, move, and establish your new lab.

The Checklist

From the moment you receive the news that you’ve received a tenure track position, begin a plan to organize, prioritize, and strategize.  The easiest way to do this is to start and maintain a master list containing everything you will need to do to start up and run your lab.  Include all decision-making in the list, including an equipment wish list, reagents for your first experiments, hiring plans, and any other salient notes.

  • Everything should be listed in the greatest detail possible, so take the time while you’re in your post-doc position to see what the host lab is using, what you liked and what you didn’t (especially if you might be using similar methodologies).
  • Plan how many students and researchers you will want in your first few years (don’t hire more than you feel you could comfortably mentor) and plan equipment purchasing accordingly. Estimate how much lab ware each researcher uses by talking with your current lab’s manager about orders and use.
  • Evaluate the space required for all the devices and make sure you submit this space allocation demand with your start-up finance demand.
  • Don’t forget to list all materials and solutions that are required to perform experiments.  This will be further explored in individual sections below.

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Wrapping Up Your Postdoc

Before embarking on the excitement of starting a new lab as a PI, it’s important to leave your current lab and research project in good hands and with proper closure.

  • Schedule meetings well ahead of your departure date with your advisor and new project scientists to go over any ongoing experiments, tricky protocols, answer questions, or troubleshoot hands-on.
  • Archive ALL protocols, notes, reagents, cell lines, and other specimens digitally into your BioData lab management system.
  • Scan lab notebook and archive copies digitally to preserve your work for future owners of your project.
  • Prepare a final talk for your lab mates before you leave, both to present your finished project and what you’ll be working on as a professor.

Relocation Essentials

It’s time to move!  Chances are very good that your new appointment is at a different university, and you will have to pack up your current apartment or house and relocate to a new one.  Have you planned ahead?

  • Sold or given away unwanted household essentials?
  • House or apartment hunted in your new city? [Note: many universities will offer housing planning help (and sometimes even subsidize houses) for new professors as a part of startup package negotiations.  Make sure to ask your hiring department for information.]
  • Hired a reliable moving company to transport your furniture to your new location?  Did you know that summer months, when many academics are settling into their surroundings, are also the busiest for moving companies?  Make a reservation well ahead of time.
  • Gotten major utility information for your new abode?  Electricity, Internet, phone, water, gas, electric, and other utility companies often need a few days (and sometimes weeks) for installation.  Plan ahead and save the numbers.
  • Start a spreadsheet with all of the above information, organized by dates, timeline, and other pertinent information.

In the next post, we’ll leave the old postdoc behind, and look ahead to how best to settle in to your new lab.