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Sep 11, 2008
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Personally, a difficult aspect of working in a lab was keeping an organized and detailed lab notebook. It does seem like an art and I've seen some really organized notebooks and some not so good notebooks with scribbles lacking dates or experiment labels.

I've listed a few things that I've come across:
1. My lab notebook is chronological rather than based on experiments. This causes an issue when running multiple experiments, as parts of experiments become separated with info concerning other experiments.

A possible solution would be to have separate notebooks, one for just experiments, another for chronological info/meeting notes/personal thoughts on experiments.

2. I'm never sure how much detail I should put when replicating experiments and using the same procedure. Sometimes I'll re-write the whole procedure, other times I'll just put "refer to procedure on page ##." I've ended up typing up a lot of protocols that I've used and pasting a copy of it at the end of my notebook. For individual experiments that use that protocol, I'll say see ___ protocol, pg ##, and write any modifications to that.

3. My lab notebook is bound and somewhat small, so sometimes gels and stuff have to be cut and paste it into the notebook. There are times, however, when the images won't fit into the notebook, creating another mess....I'll usually just put it into a folder and say see ___ folder.

4. After meeting with my PI, I often come back with multiple sheets of paper. I've been putting that in another separate folder, and usually write the summary of our meeting in my notebook. These loose papers end up stacked in a folder before I end up going through all of them and throwing them out. Do you keep these papers or do you just throw them out later?

hmm....I can't think of anything else at the moment, but I thought it might be nice to diverge from admissions talk for a self-improvement discussion.

So, what issues have you guys come across when keeping a good lab notebook? any tips/suggestions to keeping an organized and efficient lab notebook?


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Mar 14, 2002
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I've started keeping my notes entirely electronically. This works for me because almost all of my experiments generate electronic results (MR images/spectroscopic data typically).

My PC is subdivided as such:

C:\data (current lab)

within C:\data are a bunch of project subdirectories.
C:\data\lactate for example is one of my side projects.
Within that directory I have C:\data\lactate\120408 which contains the data, the processed data, and often the code used to process it for that day. There will be 120408.txt which explains what I did that day and the data that I obtained. I might go and annotate it later with data processing results and such.

Now I'm uncertain how many PIs are really comfortable with an electronic notebook. I back up my laptop frequently so that little is lost in the case of failure/loss.

cyclin M

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Nov 24, 2008
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I keep my data on my computer or if it's a printout/gel/wb I tape that into my notebook taking up a whole sheet.

I always write the project name, date, page it was continued from, page it was continued on, and that's about it. That lets me keep track of where I am at all times since I will probably not be working on 1 project at one given time as you probably experience as well.

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I also keep most of my results electronically. I have some binders with the original gels and films, but they're annoted well enough that I can find them without too much trouble if I ever needed to. I think the real key in any kind of record keeping or data asset management system is to make sure information is entered at the beginning. Trying to backtrack and annotate everything you've done after a couple of years is a daunting task!

For physical notebooks, I leave about 10 pages at the beginning and end for Table of contents purposes. I make sure the date and a one-line description are included.

For electronic stuff, I make sure to fill in the metadata section of the files (if there is one) and make the file name pretty long and descriptive. The advent of spotlight for Macs and Google Desktop in general make this a nice way of doing things.

If only google had a gLabNotebook(beta) webapp... :)


P.S. I admit I do get behind on doing some of these things. It's always a pain to try and play catchup!


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I used Excel files as my lab notebooks. One file represented a project and each worksheet represented an experiment catalogued by the date the experiment began. I also had one worksheet be the summary/index of experiments with hyperlinks to the actual experiment. Another worksheet would be a catalogue of oligos, clones, etc used in the experiment.

Its convenient because Excel allows for automated calculations through rote formulas that you perform everyday. I used Excel VBA to design some more complicated macros (for instance the Elispot Reader I used generated the data for each plate into an Excel file with each cell representing a well on a 96 well. I wrote up a macro to convert the raw data into more meaningful data that I applied to every plate.)

You can also hyperlink your date to other projects, figures, images, websites (for ordering reagents/articles)

I always print a paper copy to paste into a physical notebook and sync my files to the Lab G5 daily. It's so much more convenient since I can access the data from anywhere in stead of having to go to the lab.


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I had different binders for different projects, and then each binder had tabs, so I could stick notes from PI meetings, etc in the back.

For many of my experiments, I had typed up standard protocols on my computer. I would print them out with blanks for the actual amounts of reagent used, and fill them out as I did the experiment and put them in the binder. Then when I analyzed that data, I would go back to the protocol page and write at the bottom where to find the results (slide box numbers, directory with confocal images, names of excel files, etc.) And I had a tab for printed-out graphs and other data.

I had a separate binder for all of my animal work that detailed what we did to each animal, when they were sacked, etc. Whenever I used the brains for an experiment, I would go back in the animal binder and write down the corresponding experiment binder and page#.


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Nov 30, 2008
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One simple approach I've seen is keep a binder (probably best to make separate for each project) and have a lot of tabs labeled Expt. 1, Expt. 2, etc. And insert chronological notes for each experiment. I was never good at keeping a lab notebook but I ran across this style near the end of grad school and thought that it could have been useful. Just a suggestion...


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May 30, 2008
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One simple approach I've seen is keep a binder (probably best to make separate for each project) and have a lot of tabs labeled Expt. 1, Expt. 2, etc. And insert chronological notes for each experiment. I was never good at keeping a lab notebook but I ran across this style near the end of grad school and thought that it could have been useful. Just a suggestion...

This is what I do. I think it works quite well.
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