Minimalism Is In: Implement an ELN to Create a Highly Efficient Lab
Our society is facing a unique trend: as technological resources and options continue to increase, many people are embracing a culture of minimalism. We had the runner’s version of minimalism with the barefoot running craze. My sister, who is always up on trends, sold her car and now rides everywhere on a bike. I even noticed that some packaged goods are taking on a “new” basic marketing approach without the excessive graphics and text that had become so prevalent in years before. These cultural trends may seem far removed from the laboratory setting, but the minimalist outlook is pervasive. As our global population expands and resources…well, don’t, people are trying to figure out how to minimize their footprint and be more efficient with what they have.
But minimalism doesn’t mean you reject digital solutions for the sake of being barebones. Rather, it means you use only what you need and aim to improve efficiency. An electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) is the digital response to a minimalist culture in the lab. In fact, an ELN should be the pot of gold for a minimalist scientist. Take a look at how implementing an ELN can help create an efficient lab and set you on the path to creating a minimalist workspace:
De-clutter and condense
I look at the mountains of toys that collect throughout my house and am fondly reminded that I am at the mercy of generous grandparents. I know people like to give gifts and people like to have things, but there has to be a limit. The lab isn’t spared from materialism either. Every company rep drops off knick-knacks and brochures. I hoard literature and articles, convinced I’ll read them all one day. Stacks of old spreadsheets layer desks and fill files, as we have a hard time getting rid because we “might need them one day.”
An ELN is probably the best thing to happen to hoarders of papers. With an ELN, you have the ability to keep all of your important documents forever in a neat, central location. You can scan paper documents and attach files directly to notebook entries so that you can always come back to your information. And even if you forget where you attached it, a comprehensive search function will allow you to quickly and easily locate the item by keyword, date or entry.
Less paper, less time and less resources in general. Most research labs are so engrained in the digital world through experimentation, equipment, presentations and communication, that it seems natural to make laboratory notebooks digital as well. We perform experiments on equipment using computers, analyze the data using computers, present the data using computers and read the publications on computers. By using an ELN, labs can cut back on paper lab notebooks (which are expensive, but I’ll cover that in my next point). But paper isn’t the only thing you’ll cut back on: your scientists will use less time planning, performing and analyzing experiments. More efficient recordkeeping and planning can even help avoid experimental mistakes, thus cutting back on the unnecessary use of valuable laboratory resources.
Of course cutting back can help your lab save money. But I’m not promoting anything extreme, like selling everything and living and working in a van. There are much more effective ways of cutting costs in your lab. For example, cutting back on excess ordering and preventing unnecessary experiment duplication can really reign in spending. An ELN keeps your records straight and easily accessible, making it convenient to research past experiments and determine your next steps for a project, while avoiding duplicate or wasteful experiments.
Minimalism is a mindset and lifestyle that embraces simplicity and efficiency. Visit the BIOVIA website to find out how the BIOVIA Notebook can help you create an efficient lab.