Throughout the 2020 COVID-19 shutdown, considered one of us (S.M.), a graduate scholar on the time, was requested to write down a brief manuscript utilizing a earlier laboratory member’s unpublished knowledge. Considering it might be a fast and simple pandemic mission that might result in a publication and a chapter in his dissertation, he fortunately took on the mission. However the happiness didn’t final.
After weeks of trudging by means of poorly documented programming codes and knowledge information, S.M. realized that a lot of the uncooked knowledge he wanted had been lacking. V.A., a postdoc within the lab, was recruited to assist with the mission. Collectively, we had been in the end capable of find a few of the misplaced knowledge, however they had been unfold throughout two different exhausting drives, saved utilizing file names that had been inconsistent with the unique knowledge set. We spent the next 12 months repeating experiments, however some knowledge couldn’t be re-collected, as a result of the animal fashions used within the unique mission had been lengthy gone. Two years later, the paper stays unpublished and has no clear narrative due to inconsistencies and gaps within the knowledge. Sadly, such tales of knowledge loss appear widespread in academia.
As longer-term lab members who’ve borne and proceed to bear the brunt of constant older initiatives, we predict these issues come up from a misplaced project of duty. Academia heaps many of the burden of documentation and knowledge storage onto people, as an alternative of the lab as an entire. On the similar time, little, if any, instruction is offered to show people find out how to correctly doc and retailer their knowledge. However labs can mitigate knowledge loss by implementing three easy ideas.
Set up requirements
The optimum practices for documenting and storing knowledge differ from workforce to workforce. Our lab focuses on electrophysiology, so our knowledge consist largely of enormous knowledge information of uncooked neural traces. Within the instance described above, our greatest frustrations had been the dearth of a centralized knowledge repository and inconsistent file names. Since that have, we now have created a devoted folder on the lab server the place workforce members are anticipated to add their uncooked knowledge, and we now have established a uniform naming customary for information: ‘User_YYYY_MM_DD_Exp#’.
We had been additionally hampered by a scarcity of documentation for the info that we did discover, which is important for figuring out experimental parameters, resembling sampling charges, stimulation frequencies and stimulus intensities. To alleviate this subject, we now have developed and carried out a semi-automatic software program routine that extracts this info from every experiment and saves it on the server alongside the uncooked knowledge. These requirements replicate our expertise of what works finest for our lab; different labs can have their very own finest practices and requirements. No matter you do, seek the advice of with these truly operating the experiments to make sure that your proposed requirements match their experimental and analytical wants.
Handle personnel transitions
As probably the most senior members in our lab, we now have helped many researchers come and go. By way of that have, we now have learnt that it is very important implement clear onboarding — and, extra importantly, offboarding — procedures to retain institutional reminiscence.
Onboarding is comparatively simple: get the brand new member acclimatized to the lab, prepare them on protocols and requirements and assist them to get their mission off the bottom. Offboarding is more durable, but is not less than as vital. The issue arises from attempting to get exiting lab members to correctly doc and move on their initiatives, both as a result of they’re dashing to complete or are too disengaged to care. The principal investigator (PI) must set the expectation that exiting lab members will dedicate time to wrapping up initiatives. A lot of this might be achieved by means of a well-defined exit interview with the PI and maybe different lab members who will inherit unfinished initiatives. Throughout this assembly, all notes, knowledge and important supplies are handed over, and the present standing and subsequent steps of initiatives are mentioned.
Alternatively, you may do what considered one of us (S.M.) did when he was on the brink of go away his earlier lab. Across the time of his exit date, he was chosen to current a chat at his lab group’s annual retreat. Getting ready for his presentation inadvertently required him to tick off many of the to-do-list objects: organizing knowledge and notes, summarizing outcomes and background materials, and describing subsequent steps.
Different labs may implement one thing comparable as a regular apply, for example by requiring outgoing members to present an exit presentation of what they’ve completed throughout their tenure one or two weeks earlier than their departure. Leaving an organized mission makes it simpler for others to select it up and full it.
Keep institutional data
Even when lab members doc every little thing that they’re imagined to, the trouble is wasted if their notes and knowledge can’t be retrieved later. The answer is to determine a well-organized digital archive of paperwork, knowledge, reagents and different related supplies for every mission. Lengthy-term data-storage options are plentiful. Though discovering one that matches your lab’s wants is just not trivial, it’s price it in the long term. We advocate checking together with your establishment to see what sources they will present or advocate.
Of equal significance is placing long-term personnel, and even the PI, accountable for knowledge storage. Solely personnel who’ve been within the lab for a very long time (and who’re more likely to keep for a very long time) can know what analysis initiatives have been began and the place mission supplies and knowledge would possibly reside. They’ll make sure that these knowledge are maintained over the long run.
It takes a lab to battle knowledge loss. Particular person researchers are rightfully answerable for conserving good notes that others can comply with. However the lab as an entire wants to simply accept better duty for setting requirements, archiving notes and knowledge and staying apprised of what has been tried, what has succeeded, and what has failed in order that the info and data are usually not forgotten. We really feel that the steps outlined right here will lead to a extra productive lab that can keep away from lots of the complications we skilled. However don’t be afraid to ask others about their experiences whereas growing your personal plan for preserving knowledge. Your future workforce members — and future selves — will undoubtedly respect it.