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Upgrade your research program with electronic lab notebooks

Andrea Zeek • 1/22/19

Upgrade your research program with electronic lab notebooks

It’s a new year, and some are using the calendar change as motivation to improve aspects of their personal lives. Why not apply the same thinking to your research lab?

As part of the IU School of Medicine’s lab modernization project, school leadership have begun a limited rollout of new resources and processes that focus on research information management, including the school-funded training and use of electronic laboratory notebooks to help researchers improve the safe and efficient organization, security and share-ability of their lab’s content.

Electronic laboratory notebooks––especially when compared to paper notebooks––provide many advantages for researchers, such as more efficient data entry via laptops, desktop computers or iPads and reducing the need for printing out, cutting and taping various paper graphs and images that can clutter some labs. The content entered into an electronic laboratory notebook is searchable and remotely accessible, which can save researchers time when finding information for grant applications, journal articles or patents. Additionally, as more IU School of Medicine researchers transition to electronic lab notebooks, critical results are kept available both the principal investigator and the school, allowing for the appropriate movement of information during career transitions.

Raghu Mirmira, MD, PhD, director of both the Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research and the Center for Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases at IU School of Medicine, said using electronic lab notebooks has helped his research lab go paperless––a move that he and his team are already seeing the benefits of.

“The major advantage of going paper-free is that sharing of data in real-time and with people in different locations is possible,” Mirmira said. “This is not just an issue of sharing the data themselves, but also the primary techniques and conditions. This concept promotes IU School of Medicine’s goal of increasing collaboration and reproducibility.

“Also, paper-less allows for the data to be stored without taking physical space, and this would eliminate the risk that paper might get lost or destroyed.”

IU School of Medicine associate research professor Sarah Tersey, PhD, who directs Mirmira’s lab, said there is a learning curve when it comes to switching from paper to electronic lab notebooks, but the results are worth the effort.

“Having an electronic lab notebook has made managing the lab easier and less time consuming,” Tersey said. “Electronic lab notebooks also allow for stronger documentation during collaborative experiments, as each lab member now has access to the same lab notebook and the documentation isn’t scattered throughout several different paper notebooks.”

Mirmira said he would encourage other IU School of Medicine researchers to go paperless because it would allow them to examine primary data from virtually any location, ensuring that data analysis and presentation are verifiable without having to rely on seeing an actual physical document.

“There is cost savings, space savings and verification with this approach,” Mirmira said.

Tersey said she was surprised by how quickly she was able to switch to an electronic lab notebook.

“As long as a person wants to make the change, the steps are easy and the transition is smooth,” she said.

IU School of Medicine’s Ruth Lilly Medical Library offers support and training for researchers interested in using electronic lab notebooks. For questions and more information, contact iusmeln@iupui.edu.

Author

Andrea Zeek

Communications Manager

Andrea promotes research and scientific discovery for IU School of Medicine, the IU Precision Health Initiative, and the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute. Contact her at 317-278-2886 or anzeek@iu.edu.