Research requires so much more than simply collecting, analyzing and presenting data. Core stages include project management, clean up, countless emails, conflict resolution and more. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get bogged down in all these in-betweens.
Tina Sumpter, research assistant professor in the Department of Dermatology in the School of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, manages a research lab with one technician and a lot of undergraduate researchers. In addition to actually getting research done, Tina must coordinate many different people, all working on the same project. It’s not an easy task, but she makes it work with LabArchives.
Tina’s lab researches allergies and skin. As an immunologist and cell biologist, she looks at how cells play a role in allergies—and is in the process of developing new inhibitors for dermatitis.
What does that really mean? Think of it this way — Public speaking makes Subject A nervous and causes them to break out in hives. This is a classic example of the nervous system and immune system interacting in a way that leaves the human subject in a less than ideal state. This ‘cross talk’ between systems causes the rash to present itself. Luckily, inhibitors can prevent these negative signals and their itchy aftermath.
Tina and her lab are developing inhibitors for this exact situation. Conducting high-level research like this with undergraduate contributors, however, has unique challenges. Organization is key.
Pitt Information Technology, the university’s central IT organization, offers LabArchives and other digital tools to help researchers and instructors like Tina, keep it all afloat.
When Tina set up her lab’s workflow, she knew that working digitally would be the key to smooth collaboration and consistent documentation. Paper notebooks were a headache to track and would likely get lost as her researchers graduated and moved on. After trying a few non-research-oriented platforms, Tina realized what she really needed was the ability to quickly upload, organize and share files of any type in real time. LabArchives fit the bill.
Tina also recognized that whatever platform she chose needed to be easy to learn and straightforward to use — She doesn’t have the time to train every new researcher in using the lab’s digital notebook. LabArchives simple login process and intuitive workflows bring new lab members up to speed fast.
Once up and running in LabArchives, Tina’s new researchers have access to everything they need. The lab’s protocols and frequently cited papers are all stored in the platform. Tina even offers feedback within it. Because everything is kept in one digital location, Tina’s researchers know it’s up to them to independently look for what they need, rather than relying on her to direct them.
When a researcher leaves
LabArchives is the hub of the lab, Tina says. A situation that reinforces why this is so important recently came up — Tina was looking for specific data collected by a former undergraduate researcher two years prior. Finding it in stacks of old lab notebooks would’ve been a nightmare. To find this data in LabArchives all she had to do was search the student’s name with a keyword. Easy.
Another example? A student who left Tina’s lab three years ago is now the main author of a paper the lab is about to publish. Tina has all of that student’s work properly documented and retained within LabArchives, saving herself—and the entire lab—a lot of stress. It’s all about making the most of everyone’s time spent in the lab, she says.
Tina’s research is very focused on patents. LabArchives automatically applies immutable date and time stamps to all work the lab enters. This is critical in patent applications, especially in Tina’s field. Ultimately, she says, her lab is trying to help improve health and combat human disease. In order to do that, the research they do and its applications will need a patent at some point. When the lab is ready for a patent, they won’t have to worry about collating data from long lost paper notebooks or trying to figure out who did what years later.
As Tina has seen through her research, students almost always rise to the challenge. They just need the right tools. By leveraging best practices and industry tools, both Tina and her students have benefitted. “Let’s get students working in a real way,” she says, “because when that happens everyone benefits.”