French scientist Louis Pasteur said “chance favors the prepared mind.” In the game of scientific research, organization can be key to creating favorable conditions for the great moments every scientist hopes for. And yet, how many of us in the sciences actually thought of the labs they trained in as a model of organization? How many of us, especially faculty members at small schools who are principal investigator (PI) and lab manager all in one, could improve lab management? And how do we model best practices of research management for our students and choose systems that support that goal?
Lab management has been covered a couple of times previously here on ProfHacker; I’ve written about Quartzy for inventory management and ideas for digital lab notebooks. And now there’s another player that seems to bring together inventory and research management, maybe making it possible to address the questions posed above: Labguru.
If you are interested, you’ll want to take a moment to head over to the website and watch the tour or a webinar. I have been trying out Labguru for a couple of weeks to see how it might meld with my research and teaching priorities, and so far it has several intriguing points that could make it useful to me:
- Research efforts are organized by projects, which have milestones supported by individual experiments. I really like this way of thinking about scientific work, especially when working with students who can often get caught up in the wave of information that is crashing over their heads and lose sight of the big picture. This structure is a good way of thinking about a project in a big-picture fashion.
- The website has a major section called “Knowledgebase” which can be used to store protocols, papers, documents, and images that are pertinent to a lab. This is a great way to keep continuity of project information in place and centralized as lab members move in and out, especially in the undergraduate research world where students can work for you for as little duration as a semester and it is not uncommon for several students to each have a small part in a project that takes years.
- Labguru enables some oversight of work that I have found critical when working with students. PIs can see the records that are created by students (or more generally, members of the lab), which facilitates making sure the students are both following protocols and developing well as scientists. It makes checking in much easier than asking for lab notebooks to be handed in and reviewing them page by page (not to mention creating a more permanent record of the work). I also like the feature of how experiments are documented; there are sections for users to put in which protocols they are using, in what order, which to me is helpful for encouraging mindfulness of intricate and important experiment steps.
There are more features in Labguru that I’m able to cover here, but here are a few more details that may be of interest. The site costs $10 per user for academic users. You can try the website for free for 30 days, and students working on their own can create free limited feature accounts. As a PI, you can add users but ensure that the billing comes only to you. There is an iPad app for tracking experiments away from a desktop computer. And backup/export features are available; you can export everything in a zip file that contains files in their original format as well as information that you type into Labguru’s fields converted to Word and PDF format.
Labguru is definitely geared towards life sciences research, with pre-defined molecular and specimen collection features that are probably of great utility to those using them but not to others, as I have found. And the translation of “experiments” to computational research probably would be a bit clumsy. Still, Labguru seems to translate well to my interdisciplinary research. I plan on continuing to try it out for six months.
What methods are you using to manage your lab? Let us know in the comments.
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