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What Is a Lab Notebook?!

5 minutes

So I want to talk to you about lab notebooks-- these fancy things that hold all of my data and all of my protocols and all of my results, because I'm not sure that everyone outside of a lab knows what a lab notebook is or why they're so important or why you should care. I care. So I often think of my lab notebook as a lab scrapbook. So there is everything in here. There's some data-y stuff. This is just a readout of some concentrations of something. There are protocols that I follow. There are notes that I have made on stuff I've done or stuff I've researched, right? So sometimes, there's a lot of notes that I've printed out. And sometimes, I have protocols for when I'm doing stuff. And I highlight the stuff I've already put in the tube. I've been in this lab right now for, maybe, closing in on 18 months. And I have four lab notebooks because I put too much stuff in my lab notebook. For me, their primary purpose is what did I do, remembering steps, and keeping a very important log of everything that went into an experiment. Lab notebooks can also be very useful for other people in the lab. So there's a postdoc who left our lab. She left me all of her lab notebooks. So it's very easy for me to go back and figure out exactly what she did to get to something. So they're useful tools for other people in your lab as well. You can see that there's an area where somebody else could sign my lab notebook and date it. In more regulated settings, like industry and like government, they will often have procedures in place where somebody else needs to sign your lab notebook. And so that way, it is proof that you did that thing, or you had that idea on that day. I really like a paper lab notebook in this digital era. Many people are switching over to electronic lab notebooks. And I have tried. I've tried to switch over to an electronic lab notebook because, I mean, you can kind of see, just by me quickly flipping through, how much stuff in here is stuff that I have printed out and then pasted into my lab notebook. But I really like having a paper lab notebook. It's a lot easier for me to flip through. You can't Control-F it to find your specific search term. But I just have a better sense of where things are if I have a physical copy. The specifics of how I have recorded things in my lab notebook has changed a little bit over time. If you go back to my very first lab notebook, I would write out a very detailed to-do list for every day. And then I would check off when I did all of those things, which some people really enjoy doing. The best way, and I don't always fit this ideal, to organize a lab notebook in my head is to have your date up at the top. You should always have dated, numbered pages. You should have up at the top some sort of quick title of what you're doing that day, or even just a keyword, what experiment you're working on. And then I really have gotten in the habit lately of putting an aim. So what is the point of all that stuff I'm doing that day? Then I put my protocol. I'll write down any notes about, this happened, that happened, I noticed this, this thing happened a little bit differently. I'll put all of that into my notebook as well. I'll try and reference anything that came before or anything that came after. Some labs say, you will use this notebook, or you will use this electronic notebook, and you will do things this way. Our lab is a little bit more flexible about, as long as your data is all recorded and well-kept, nobody really cares what method you're doing that with, as long as somebody else can look through it and figure out what you did. That's a very key point is that somebody else should be able to look at your lab notebook, and figure out what you did, and why. It's really just about recording and keeping your data. One other key thing is that your lab notebook is technically not supposed to leave the lab. So I also have a little tiny Moleskine that I bring with me if I'm going to talks or I'm going to conferences, so that I have someplace where I can record my notes-- I'll bring this to meetings too-- someplace that I can record my notes that aren't really data. They're not really protocols, just other stuff that I want to remember and record that can travel with me outside of the lab because those are supposed to stay here. My lighting changed midway through this video. Clearly, I am out of practice on this. And I apologize. But this is the lab notebook edition of this yet-to-be-titled science blog thing that I'm doing. So yeah. Science?

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What is a lab notebook? In this episode, host Alex Dainis explains how she uses lab notebook when conducting research. These notebooks are the primary record of research, and researchers use them to document their hypotheses, experiments, and analysis of experiments.

Media Details

Runtime: 5 minutes

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