Record-Keeping As Insurance Against Disasters

record keeping
The loss of a colleague can be disorientating for lab members. Careful record keeping, however, can enable members to carry on a scientist’s work or make use of his or her experiments. Image Source: Flickr user El Bingle

When it rains, it sometimes pours

Unfortunately, bad events do occur. However, the preparedness one shows in the face of such difficulties can make all the difference. Dealing with the death or sickness of an academic colleague is only one such “bad event,” but even this is “regrettably more common than you might think [and] can have powerful emotional and practical effect” on a laboratory or organization. The sudden loss of a principal investigator (PI) can be especially fraught as the rest of the lab is left to handle grants, collaborators, papers, junior students and researchers while also trying to maintain the person’s “strategic research vision” and mimic his or her expertise. Given that no one believes such a fate will befall his or her lab, many scientists and organizations are unprepared for the repercussions of such a sudden loss. As one researcher bemoaned on her blog, “We can’t depend on luck to save science from freak accidents!

Good record keeping practices via the use of ELNs can help identify practical matters as well as scientific direction

Though very little can prepare individuals for a significant illness or death of a close colleague, in terms of research goals and direction, careful record keeping practices can enable lab members to make use of data that has often been painstakingly collected. Especially in certain fields, the collection of this data can be a “once in a lifetime” opportunity and its loss can be devastating for a group. As Karen Strier, a biological anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison told The Scientist, “Anyone could go out and do another study, [but] the long-term data on life history can take as many years to accumulate as the animals live” thus illuminating “just how fragile our data are if they’re not protected.”And as the sheer amount of data produced in some fields continues to increase, lab groups must rely on innovations such as ELNs (electronic laboratory notebooks) to prevent the loss of this data.

Beyond using an individual’s data to further his or her research goals, record-keeping via ELNs can be made accessible to other lab personnel thus enabling group members and collaborators to carry on a scientist’s treasured work. ELNs are especially useful for determining practical matters such as how to carry out experiments, what reagents to use and in what amount, what results to expect based on previous experiments, and how the scientists would have likely interpreted these results based on past entries. Record-keeping via a digital laboratory notebook or ELN can prepare a group to carry on the work of any member who is unable to continue for any reason.

Careful record-keeping gives people the space to grieve

When news of a colleague’s illness or death is first received, it is also important that lab members have time to process the news or at least talk to others. After the sudden and untimely death of his advisor, postdoc at the University of Bath Gabriele Margos told Science Careers: “There was so much to do and so many things to organize that I hardly had any time to think…Grief came only later.” Unfortunately, delaying this grief process can be detrimental. Thus, beyond maintaining the flow and continuity of a lab’s research efforts, record-keeping practices that make use of digital laboratory notebooks can also ensure that lab members can decide what needs to be accomplished more quickly while also managing their grief.

Record-keeping and ELNs for the benefit of all

ELNs enable laboratory scientists to design execute their experiments while also providing a digital “storage space” for collecting and reporting their data. Additionally, ELNs avoid many of the problems associated with bound notebooks, which can come unbound, or scientific data being lost forever if a lab notebook is lost. When a colleague is no longer able to complete his or her work, the advantages to working with ELNs become even more powerful as the digital notebook becomes a repository of the work of a scientist as well as a means to carry on that work. To determine how BIOVIA Electronic Laboratory Notebook can be used to protect laboratories, research data, and the work of individuals, please visit our website today.

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