8 Habits of Happy Researchers
Do you ever feel like your work should be better organized? Are you frustrated when you spend time searching for “lost” samples or results? How many of these happy – researchers’- habits have you already developed?
Here are a few tips to help organize your lab work, increase your efficiency and avoid nervous breakdowns in the future:
1. DESIGN AN EXPERIMENT
Take your time when designing an experiment. Poor planning rarely pays off and you can end up with failed experiments and useless data. Think carefully and plan ahead. What kind of data do you want to get? How will this data affect your future experiments? Will you be able to compile the statistics?
2. CREATE A CHECKLIST
You are all set to start with your lab work. Putting on your lab coat and grabbing your pipette you notice that you’ve forgotten your timer. When you get your timer and return you realize that your experiment design is still waiting on the printer… Avoid unnecessary trips between the lab and your office by creating a checklist of all the items you’ll need before starting an analysis.
3. LABEL YOUR SAMPLES
You quickly set up a few tubes and start pipetting. A colleague enters the lab and asks you for some advice. When you return to your work, you realize you have forgotten which tube contains what. You’ll have to start from scratch and you’ve just wasted your time and reagents. Label your samples, even if you only have 5. Always put your name and date on your tubes. Using printed labels is usually better than hand writing – other people will be able to read it!
4. ORGANIZE FRIDGE STORAGE
Don’t let your fridge become a sample graveyard. Put your samples into annotated boxes and racks and make a physical fridge map so that you’ll always know what’s in there and where it is. This is so important that Splice will feature a special article on this topic in the near future.
5. NAME THE EXPERIMENT
To achieve a chronological order in your files or folders, name them all in the same way. For example: YearMonthDay_Descriptive_name (i.e. 20150527_RNAisolation_Ecoli_1)
6. PLAN FOR BREAKS
When you’re tired or hungry you’re more likely to make mistakes. Long centrifugations or incubations are perfect for a coffee break. Inspect your protocols for steps where you can stop for at least half an hour to have lunch.
7. TAG YOUR RESULTS
Usually you’ll create several files during one experiment. You’ll have at least a protocol file, a results file, an additional data analysis file, maybe a photo etc. Make sure you tag all the files associated with a certain experiment. This way you will not be completely lost after 5 years of research and hundreds of experiments.
Backup your important data on a regular basis to different storage media – two places are good, but three are better.