How to ensure data continuity in an academic lab with SciNote ELN

How to ensure data continuity in an academic lab with SciNote ELN

Data continuity is a major challenge especially for Principal Investigators who work closely with undergraduate students. Here is how the Lambert Lab uses SciNote to ensure data continuity and improve the access of data.

“I love how we were forced to conceptualize everything that was going on in our lab in a [visualized, digital] way that I really hadn’t done before.”
Dr. Kelly Lambert, Professor, University of Richmond

Table of contents:

About the research lab

Dr. Kelly Lambert is a Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Richmond in Virginia. Her laboratory’s primary focus is to identify experiences and environmental contexts that optimize neural functions (“experience-based neuroplasticity”). The lab utilizes pre-clinical animal models to try to understand emotional resilience and responses to stress, and the effect of external contexts such as training and parenting to the brain.

Being a professor at an undergraduate institution, Kelly enjoys teaching courses such as Behavioral Neuroscience, Clinical Neuroscience, Comparative Animal Behavior, Neuroplasticity, and Psychobiology of Stress. She has won several teaching awards, including the 2008 Virginia Professor of the Year. Her research was featured in the Wall Street Journal, CNN, WIRED Magazine, BBC News, and a variety of TV shows. She served on the review panels for the National Institute of Health in the US.

The Challenge

Kelly, who works primarily with undergraduates in her research lab, faces several challenges due to the flux of students. The nature of their involvement, such as summer positions, undergraduate thesis work, or short-term shadowing, leads to frequent graduations and departures. As a result, locating past notes, protocols, or data when writing up manuscripts becomes extremely difficult.

Furthermore, Kelly’s research projects involve multiple components, including animal training, behavior monitoring, and wet lab bench work (e.g., immunohistochemistry, tissue analysis). This complexity makes it challenging to track the various animals, chemicals, and reagents used in the projects. For instance, tracing back to a specific antibody lot used in a staining protocol becomes problematic if the antibody is discontinued or a different vendor is used at some point.

The Solution

When COVID forced many labs to reduce in-person activities, Kelly saw an opportunity to enhance research efficiency and student supervision through digital means. Initially, she hesitated about implementing an electronic lab notebook (ELN) due to the lab’s size, but eventually, she realized it would be a good fit and decided to adopt SciNote.

Now, the Lambert Lab effectively uses SciNote to

  • manage research studies and collaborations
  • track the progress of grant-funded projects
  • connect inventories of animals, chemicals, and reagents to lab protocols and experiments
  • engage students in day-to-day research activities, teaching them about scientific best practices, and demonstrating proper data categorization and management

Even if a student leaves the lab, data generated by the student is still stored securely within SciNote. Activities within SciNote are all recorded, so it is easy to see who did what when in the activity log.

Kelly also incorporates SciNote into her grant applications to achieve efficient research data management, even with numerous students and collaborators involved in her projects.

Watch the full presentation on how an electronic lab notebook can help you ensure data continuity and improve the access of data.

Key Takeaways

Take the time to envision how your lab activities can be structured and visualized

The Lambert Lab organizes the following activities in SciNote at the Project level in the following categories:

  • Studies involving specific animal models (e.g., raccoons. mice)
  • Grant-funded projects (e.g., NIMH Grant)
  • Collaborations (e.g., Tufts Collaboration)

SciNote follows a structured hierarchy of projects, experiments, and tasks. By setting up additional folders in SciNote, related projects or studies can be grouped together. For instance, the Raccoons folder contains all the Raccoons studies as Projects in SciNote, and selecting a particular study (e.g., Flexible Learning Study) within the Raccoons folder allows you to access and explore the experiments within that study.

SciNote Webinar screenshot (Projects)

In the case of grant-funded projects, the Lambert Lab uses SciNote’s “Experiments” to set up project aims, enabling the team to effectively track the progress for each aim. To adapt the lab’s grant proposals and bench science practices into a digital format, they carefully considered how to make it understandable for all users, including short-term participants like summer students and future team members.

Utilizing SciNote’s flexible structure, the lab customized the platform to align with their existing activities, simplifying the process of capturing comprehensive project information.

Therefore, SciNote’s adaptability empowers labs like the Lambert Lab to efficiently manage grant-funded projects, enabling efficient tracking and knowledge transfer among team members with diverse roles and durations of involvement.

SciNote webinar, NIMH Grant

Identify the common starting and end points (tasks) for each experiment

The Lambert Lab has established “animal information” as the consistent starting point for all experiments, regardless of whether they involve animal models or tissues. While results and protocols can be uploaded at each task level, the Lambert Lab decided to end all experiments with a “results” task that could better help them organize all the results and data in one spot.

These decisions are then reflected into their tasks and workflow set-ups in SciNote.

Since the lab employs pre-clinical models to study both tissue and behavioral changes, they have adopted a non-linear task flow. This flow branches into various assessments required within each experiment to fulfill the project’s objectives. These workflows can be set up as templates, and easily replicated if needed.

SciNote offers the versatility to accommodate projects with simple, linear structures as well as those with more intricate, non-linear arrangements. This adaptability makes SciNote a suitable tool for a wide range of research projects, meeting the diverse needs of laboratories like the Lambert Lab.

SciNote webinar
SciNote webinar
Q: Your workflows (webs) seem quite complex. Was the transition from a notebook experiment keeping to the digital one in the ELN easy?
The presentation of our workflow seems more complex than it is simply because we extract different dimensions of data from our animals—i.e., behavior, neural correlates, and hormones – data that may be processed at the same time by different students. If we used a more linear timeline/flowchart, which we could, it would probably appear less complex. Many studies/projects have a more linear trajectory than our multidimensional research. Even so, the branching off just depicts the fact that we have several assessments going on after our initial manipulations. The conceptualization aspect was an engaging experience – but not too difficult (in my opinion).

Connect inventories (animals, reagents) with data to ensure traceability

The Lambert Lab established several inventories using SciNote’s built-in inventory management system. Through this system, lab members can easily track vital information concerning in-house lab rats, animals obtained from external vendors, as well as other essential items such as tissues, chemicals, and reagents. This streamlined approach ensures efficient organization and accessibility of crucial lab resources.

SciNote webinar

The Lambert Lab has also standardized the naming of animals that the lab receives from vendors. These animals arrive without any specific tags or identification. By adopting a uniform nomenclature for rat names (year + animal + number) and leveraging SciNote’s capability to link animals to specific experiments, the lab ensures easy tracking of how each animal is being utilized in their research. This removes the need to search for scattered information in Excel spreadsheets, which is a common practice in many labs.

SciNote webinar

As animals are incorporated into SciNote’s Inventory, lab members can quickly reference the precise animal or tissue being used in each experiment, streamlining data management and enhancing research efficiency.

SciNote webinar

Lab inventory can be cross-reference within SciNote to ensure traceabillity.

Centralize protocol management for easy access and linking.

SciNote serves as a centralized platform for managing all protocols, making it convenient to identify the creator of each protocol and ensure that the most current version is being utilized. Additionally, protocols can be linked to various experiment tasks, and reagents from the inventory can be tagged directly within the protocols. This integrated approach streamlines the research process, providing easy access to essential information and enhancing the accuracy and organization of lab activities.

SciNote webinar - protocols

Find all the protocols and relevant metadata within the protocol repository.


The Lambert Lab adopted SciNote successfully with a focus on data continuity, ensuring transparent and accountable research practices and improving long-term access to lab data.

SciNote further enhances the lab’s data traceability by facilitating the management and cross-referencing of multiple projects, experiments, and inventories within the lab.

Finally, SciNote offers valuable educational benefits by enabling students to actively engage in research activities, from project planning to inventory management, fostering a comprehensive learning experience within the lab.