Recently, a few of my new colleagues asked me to help them modernize their laboratory operations and expand their scientific communication. I am no technology guru, but over the years I have started using several different tools that have helped me during the setup of my new lab. I’ll list some of these tools and applications below with links. Those of you who are directed here from twitter will surely know that nothing here is very new or very revolutionary so please do comment with your own suggestions and information. Hopefully the comments will be just as useful to people as the post.

Website: I feel it is a must to have some web presence that you control to highlight what you want others to know about yourself and your science. I use WordPress. My site is hosted by Dreamhost but you can just as easily use their currently recommended host, Bluehost, for quick and easy installation.

Twitter: I depend on Twitter to network with other scientists outside of my home institution. I also use it to stay up to date on science and issues affecting scientists. For newbies, it might be tempting to make your feed private. I think this sort of defeats the purpose. If you’re hesitant, sign up for a public account and be a fly on the wall for a while before tweeting anything of your own. That’s what many people do when they start anyway.

Slack: I didn’t use Slack until I started my own lab. It’s essentially a instant messaging service that you can set up for your team. It allows you to have private conversations with individuals but also make “channels” that are dedicated for certain types of information. Channels can be for different projects, different teams of people or really any purpose you want. Importantly, you can drag and drop files right into the message field to share documents, spreadsheets, images, journal articles etc. You can also easily search by keyword or hashtag making it really simple to go back and search for something communicated in an earlier conversation. This has become very important for me to stay in touch and answer questions for my young lab when I can’t be physically present. It’s a lot more immediate than email…if that’s what you’re looking for.

Quartzy: My experience with Quartzy prior to starting my lab was essentially just taking advantage of the free business cards they would print off for all ASCB (American Society for Cell Biology) poster presenters. Once I started my lab, I started using Quartzy to manage my lab inventory (which, granted, is much easier when you’re just starting out, though they will transfer/upload your existing inventory list into their format for you) and, most importantly, as an actual vendor to get lower prices and save on shipping costs. They have a system called effortless quotes. You enter in what you want to order, which will likely be the discounted price you have negotiated with vendors or that your institution has negotiated with vendors. They will then let you know if they can get you an exact match for that product at a lower price than the lowest price you were able to find. In addition to that, if you accept their lower offer, you will get your item with free shipping. Sound too good to be true? It does to me too and I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. In the mean time, we have saved hundreds of dollars in just a few months.

Version Control: If you’re working on any document like a paper or a grant and you’d be screwed if you lost even one day’s work due to a file save error or Dropbox hiccup, you need version control software. I’m using Git and a GUI client, Sourcetree. I am using a Mac but I did use version control software on a PC back when I was writing my doctoral dissertation. Back then I used Subversion and the TortoiseSVN client. Hat tip to my sister, who helped me get started with Git and Sourcetree.

Evernote: I’ve used Evernote for many years in my personal life as my external memory bank to remember just about everything including cooking recipes, Twitter links to read later, journal articles and shopping lists. I’m now using the premium version as an electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) for all lab members. It’s working well for us and, so far, is as good or better than most of the other ELNs I’ve used in the past.

Google Calendar: I’m sure everyone already uses this, but I’m not sure how I’d survive or my lab would ever know what was going on scheduling-wise if we didn’t have a lab Google Calendar to mark lab/individual meetings, departmental seminars, equipment signup, absences etc.

Typesetting: I’ve never used Tex (pronounced tech) for typesetting preprints for Biorxiv, but I’ve used Lyx, a nearly WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) GUI for Tex, to typeset CVs and other documents.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some things and would love to know about everyone else’s favorite tools.


Categories: Pro-tips