So I counted this past weekend - 27 people in the Frohlich Lab (this includes part-time trainees and contractors). Quite a responsibility. In this post, I want to share with you some of the things that work for us to run such a lab. Hopefully you will have comments / thoughts / concerns that we can then discuss. I feel we almost never talk about the managerial aspects of science, despite it can make the difference between failure and success.
Personally, I have tried out many different strategies and approaches. Some of them very successful, many of them were failures. Hopefully I can help you save some time and energy by sharing what I have learned.
In today's post, I am focusing on the use of online tools to run the lab. Here are the tools we use (and no, I do not receive any kickbacks etc for mentioning specific products).
Dropbox for Business
As the number of computers kept on growing in the lab and I started to wonder how to backup all our data (that 4 TB on the department server seemed huge when we started five years ago..), Dropbox came to the rescue. It is quite expensive but in return I know we will never ever loose precious data. I completely stopped keeping local files outside of dropbox, this saves me from having to clean up various drives on various computers.
I found this tool when I was looking for options to reduce the flood of email, more specifically, to make sure communication from lab members has priority. However, it turned out to be much more than an online discussion / chat tool. It enables smooth and simple project management (my favorite tool: to-do lists for which one can assign responsibility and deadlines). Basecamp makes it easy to keep track of a multitude of different projects and the people involved in them. I would say I spend about two hours per day on Basecamp planning, replying to questions and discussing science, and monitoring progress.
We use Evernote for our lab notebooks. All lab members have to create a note each day they work in lab, documenting what they are working on. This elegantly replaces the piles of hand-written lab notebooks in my office that nobody will ever consult again since it is impossible to find anything in them. Faster to redo the experiment! Full-time lab members got a Nexus 7 tablet, which they mostly use to take pictures of experimental setups etc. Every night, I look at all the new notes and with less than 30 minutes of efforts, I know all the details of all projects going on in the lab! All the notebooks are shared with all lab members and they are often used as resources for new lab members to learn new things we do in the lab.
This one is straightforward. We have a lab calendar and full-time lab members indicate when they are away (life happens - and yes - they can take as much time off from work as they need - I do not care as long as they are productive). Part-time lab members indicate the hours they are here. My availability and meetings are also listed.
Simple! These four tools make all the difference for us? Share with us your thoughts in the comments below!