We all like new starts and the new year is a great time to revamp some things that maybe aren’t working well or could work even better. What about making 2020 the year for resolutions to make your lab more productive and innovative. Here are 5 things to get your lab on top of things:
1) Outline a plan for the year along with your lab members
You have your own idea of what the lab should be doing but have you sat down with the entire lab and shared your vision with them? The start of the year is a good time to have a discussion with the entire lab to see how projects are adding to your long-term vision. Make a list of all the ongoing projects together, look for synergies and new ideas to enhance them, understand what each individual’s goals are and chart a lab plan for the year. Too often people end up working on little projects of their own without the big picture of what exactly they are contributing to in the grand scheme of things. Also this kind of purposeful discussion and brainstorming can throw up new things that you wouldn’t otherwise think of.
2) Document and archive all the data from your lab
This is a big one – and a painful one. Most of us have labs with data scattered all over the place in drop boxes, Google Drives and hard drives of different people, some of whom are still in the lab and others who are not. A lot of times the data is not well documented. Critical protocol information associated with a dataset is missing or no data dictionary was created making it difficult to interpret years later. It’s hard work but very worthwhile to create well documented archives of data in the lab. Get the lab to work out a system together and commit to it and at least start with the recent projects. It will go a long way towards both finding better ways to do things and enhancing the value of your data.
3) Create protocol libraries that lab members can use with clear version control
We’ve all been the rookie in the lab at some point where we have to rely on older grad students or post docs to teach us protocols. Creating well documented and versioned lab protocols that are available to all new (and old) lab members can help make it easier to on board new people and also get folks up to speed on new projects. In some cases it can be really helpful to just shoot videos of each protocol with a phone as well as create FAQ documents so that students have a resource to go to and don’t have to pester others all the time.
4) Build code libraries and tutorials to make newcomers to lab more productive
If your lab relies heavily on algorithms and code libraries make sure people aren’t wasting time rewriting code that’s already been written, or implementing algorithms in inconsistent ways. Sometimes of course, you want students to write their own code as part of their learning experience. However, creating a library of well documented ‘gold standard’ code can save a lot of time and accelerate progress. A process to check and sign off on code can also help prevent future errors.
5) Make lab meetings even more productive
Most labs tend to have weekly lab meetings and the formats range from very unstructured discussions to formal talks by individual lab members in rotation. Different formats are appropriate depending on the size and breadth of projects in the lab. However, what is important is to have goals for what you want to accomplish in lab meetings. Are lab meetings about ensuring that enough progress is being made each week and jointly trouble shooting? If so quick updates from everyone maybe the way to go. Or is it a learning opportunity for giving talks and fielding questions? Depending on what you want to get out of the lab meeting you might want to structure it a different way. Being conscious about this can help make lab meetings even more productive.