Sydney, Australia is host to beaches, bars, the Opera house, The Crocodile Hunter, and a unique cohort of LabArchives users. Garvan Institute of Medical Research, The Victor Chang Institute, University of Sydney, and Monash University are collaborating to maximize their use of LabArchives digital lab notebook. Between group trainings, user group meetings, administrator meetings, and researcher presentations these institutions are working together to use their digital lab notebook tool to its full potential while simultaneously customizing the tool to fit the workflows and preferences of each lab and researcher.
We had the chance to catch up with researchers and project managers alike at the Garvan Institute and Victor Chang Institute to chat about how they use LabArchives in different situations and for different purposes. So many of our users have asked us for more information on how other users/ labs employ LabArchives and this is the first installment in a series of blog posts intended to bring you just that: a look into how a variety of labs and institutions use LabArchives!
These two institutions are host to hundreds of labs and researchers, and investigate an array of research questions/areas of inquiry. The Garvan Institute alone has 62 labs, and approximately 500 researchers. At any one time researchers at these institutions are investigating everything from neuroscience, to bone biology, cancer and more. They’ve found that a digital lab notebook can satisfy (and empower) an array of workflows, areas of inquiry and research preferences without limiting freedom or creativity within the research process. Here we’ll hear from researchers and project managers directly about how LabArchives “not one size fits all” tool satisfies different labs and individual researchers needs!
Meet the Managers
Lowenna Holt, Project Officer at the Garvan Institute, and Brit Granath, Head of Governance and Policy at The Victor Chang Institute are the bridge between researchers and technology including LabArchives digital notebook. Lowenna, who just celebrated fifteen years at Garvan, has monitored uptake there over the last three years and has a broad view of how LabArchives is being used in different labs and applied to different workflows. She is a long time researcher and scientist turned project manager and marketing aficionado, and loves that LabArchives is a malleable tool that can fit many different labs and researchers purposes. After three years of LabArchives at the Garvan Institute here’s what Lowenna has noticed:
“I am blown away by how everyone is using the tool in a different way for themselves. Garvan researchers from different labs often think they are using the tool in a standard way but really they’ve personalized it for their purposes, this happens naturally. Collaborating and learning about different ways to use LabArchives elevates the institution’s overall use of the tool.”
As Lowenna mentions, introducing a digital lab notebook tool doesn’t mean that creativity and style within research is limited let alone eliminated. The best digital tools encourage and amplify this kind of personalization. Lowenna has taken steps to help this personalization happen faster and more frequently amongst her researchers. She has been involved with several user group meetings with Garvan, Victor Chang, University of Sydney, and Monash. The goal of these meetings is to provide a place for collaboration where users can learn from one another and actually get a glimpse of how their peers use LabArchives. At these meet ups researchers showcase their notebooks, notebook structure, and how they’ve personalized the tool for their workflow. This kind of collaboration and coeducation, she says, helps users discover new and innovative ways to use the tool in order to get the most out of their digital lab notebook. And by showcasing these researchers and their institutions we hope to emulate this same effort with our user base as a whole!
So how do researchers at Garvan and Victor Chang use the tool for their specific purposes and to satisfy those persnickety preferences everyone has? Check out what they have to say…….
Meet the Researchers
Mayan Amiezer, The Garvan Institute
You might’ve seen that gut bacteria is getting a lot more press recently, taking care of that good bacteria is even verging on trendy. And that’s great news for researchers like Mayan Amiezer. Mayan is getting her PhD in immunology at Garvan and is focusing on gut bacteria and its importance to the immune system. Her work looks specifically at IgA secreting plasma cells in the gut and their development. Mayan is the main user of LabArchives in her labs but she also works within larger lab groups and uses LabArchives in both settings. At the moment she’s wrapping up her PhD!
Stephanie Kong, The Victor Chang Institute
Stents are often used to help clear arterial blockages and they are pretty good at getting their job done. Unfortunately putting one in can actually damage the artery at the same time. Stephanie Kong is investigating how we can stem arterial damage from stint placement and reduce the overall risk of heart attack after the procedure. She says she spends most of her day doing microbiology, PCR, and working with rat subjects in her lab to better understand how this kind of arterial damage can be avoided. Stephanie uses LabArchives almost exactly as she would use a paper notebook and loves the historical record LabArchives keeps of her work which makes analyzing her data easier and faster.
A Research Minute – Getting the most out of your time
Time is money, money is time. In research we might think of “results” as currency, the more we get done, the more results we produce, and the more we learn. Maximizing time spent in the lab is key to producing robust data, better analysis, and deeper learning. So how is LabArchives saving researchers and labs time? The simple answer lies in that moment we’ve all had: frantically trying to find some specific result or bit of data, flipping through pages of messy lab notebooks hunting for a needle in a haystack. Those days are long gone for Stephanie who finds that, “LabArchives is really ingrained in (her) everyday, it’s not even something (she) needs to think about anymore.”
Repetitive experiments: Getting handwriting cramps from copying your methods over and over for each subject you work with? Talk to Stephanie who used to have to do that all the time. She often works with rat subjects to learn more about how certain medications can reduce risk for arterial damage during stent placements. In a week she’ll work with any number of rat subjects and by simply duplicating pages in her LabArchives notebook she saves herself the hassle of rewriting methods each time. For about a year Stephanie was working with rat subjects on a weekly basis and kept “all of the monitoring, surgery, notes, animal numbers, and notes in LabArchives so that the lab head, technician, and everyone involved with the model could access all the data whenever needed.” By saving herself time she also saved her team time by making this important data readily accessible to everyone who needed it.
Writing Up: You’ve done the lab time, produced the results, and gathered the data, now you’ve arrived at everyone’s least favorite step, writing up. At this stage recalling what you have done to arrive at your results is extremely important, but with multiple experiments running at once, several paper notebooks, and overall chaos this can be tricky. With a digital lab notebook Mayan saves herself heaps of time when writing up, “The historical reference that LabArchives provides all my studies saves me a lot of time. All of my entries have background, I can see the whole workflow, when things were changed, there’s no need to flick through pages searching for something I did a month ago.” And perhaps the best benefit of all, when you go to present your work to your supervisor a month later and something looks funky, you won’t be scrambling. The historical reference and background that Mayan loves helps you keep a comprehensive and complete view of everything you’ve done.
Arts and Crafts Time? Scissors, glue, tape, staples, colored pencils – a primary school supply list. But also what many researchers are still using to write up their data in paper lab notebooks. Stephanie recalls…..
“When we used paper notebooks we used to call writing up arts and crafts time because we would all get out scissors and glue and be cutting up bits and pieces to glue/tape into our notebooks. Pretty funny but also tedious. Cut out arts and crafts time (literally), let your write up write itself, and allow repetitive experiments to loose that repetitiveness by streamlining your workflow with a digital lab notebook.”
NOT One Size Fits All
Across this Sydney cohort there are hundreds of researchers and labs, a myriad of research topics, workflows, and innumerable personal preferences. So how does LabArchives fit the bill in so many cases?
On the individual researcher level there are a myriad of ways to personalize the tool. And everyone has a different “favorite feature” that impacts the way the tool activates their research. Stephanie uses LabArchives “as a direct replacement of (her) paper lab notebook.” She organizes her notebooks and experiments by topic and date: “In my day to day, I use Western blotting a lot, so I’ll open the subfolder I have for that, then add a page for that day’s date, and keep all my data from that days lab work there.” Stephanie has her own notebook hierarchy down pat, but how does this fit into the lab’s larger scale group work? At the moment she’s working on two separate manuscript projects for her lab, and she finds that the linking feature makes it incredibly easy to direct other lab members and collaborators to the right pages, relevant methods, background, and overall data. The tagging and mentioning features allow Stephanie to draw the right lab member’s attention to the right spot in her lab work each time in just a few seconds.
For Mayan remembering what she’s learned from the literature and how it relates to in her research is key. As she says, “I’m not one of those people that can pull some fact from a paper I read three years ago, I’ll read it today and forget it tomorrow. LabArchives is great for visual people. I keep a literature review dump folder, I’ll take a quick screen grab of the paper’s most relevant pages, write a little spiel about the paper in a rich text entry, and add the link to the paper for later reference.” Mayan’s loves that LabArchives “is not one size fits all” and that there is “a lot of room to think about notebook structure and how you use the notebook in general.”
On the flip side, Mayan has also been a part of more team oriented labs. For a year and a half she collaborated with Baron Therapeutics to investigate immune cells in the gut and a genetic model based off of humans with a specific mutation within these immune cells. As these two areas of research collided their notebooks had to as well. In this case, each researcher kept their own notebook with their notes, research, lab work, and any other data they wanted to (like Mayan’s literature dump folder for example). On top of that the lab maintained a master notebook that each lab member was a part of and could add to. This notebook served as a point for collaboration and feedback on each researchers current write ups and allowed the lab to maintain a global view of all the work being done on the project.
What will work for me?
Victor Chang and Garvan are just two of many professional labs using LabArchives. At both institutions their labs and individual researchers have found notebook structures, tools, and workflows that suit their needs. This can take a bit of trial and error. Luckily the LabArchives team is here to guide your lab in that process through demonstrations, tips and tricks, and our excellent Support team. By showcasing labs like Garvan and Victor Chang we hope that other users can gain a wider view of how the tool can be used to maximize research potential. If you are already using LabArchives or thinking about using LabArchives gives us a buzz, send us an email, message us on Facebook, whatever suits your fancy and we’ll be happy to talk through your research style, needs, and goals to help you implement the tool in a way that activates and amplifies the work you are already doing.
Thank you to everyone at the Garvan Institute and the Victor Chang Institute for sharing more about their LabArchives experience with us, we love working with you and look forward to continually supporting the amazing research your institutions conduct. With ongoing installments of this blog and more user features like this one, we hope to continue bringing you more ideas and resources to inform how you use lab notebook technology!