Best Practice Use Guide
After creating your account, you need to think about how to configure eLabJournal so that it meets your lab's needs now and in the future. In this guide, you will find useful tips, tricks and best practices for organizing your digital lab workspace.
Setting up a Group
A group is a secure environment used to share information with members within that group. A group can be a small team with a single PI, a large research division, department or institute with multiple group leaders, or even just a single scientist. When setting up a group, it is important to think about what information should be accessible by which people. Besides projects, studies and experiments, eLabJournal also offers centralized samples storage and supplies ordering, shared standard protocol templates and equipment planning. This means that you should carefully evaluate how you want to set up your lab and decide who needs access to manage samples, use equipment or view experiments. A good rule of thumb is to set up the system from the point of view of the scientist or a single group leader, because these people will be the end-users and have the most to benefit from an intuitively organized system.
There are a number of features available to collaborate with people outside of their own group. For instance, you can create a separate Project Group to exchange data with researchers outside your lab. You can also share sample information with other labs within the organization, so that they can view shared sample records in their inventories without disclosing the actual storage location.
Setting up a Project
When setting up eLabJournal, it is important to define for yourself what a project means for you so that you can create the best possible configuration. From the point of view of someone who is working in the lab, their definition of a project may differ from the project folder designation in the group's digital lab notebook. A good practice is to only allow a few people in the lab to create new projects (usually administrator or group-leader). When organizing your digital lab notebook, there are a number of options to consider:
You can set up one project for each user and name those projects accordingly. Each user will have their own project that serves as an individual lab notebook, and the group leader can easily select a project by lab member to browse through their studies and experiments. With this option, lab members have a great deal of flexibility in organizing studies and experiments within their personal project. Be aware that if lab users are frequently collaborating with each other, part of one user's work may be stored within another user’s project. Although this is not necessarily a problem, you may find that a project-based organizational structure may work better for notebooks that require a high degree of collaboration.
You can choose to organize eLabJournal based on the projects that are running in your lab. Start by identifying the different projects your group has in progress. When defining shared projects, you must first ensure that users have permission to view their own experiments before assigning them as collaborators on the projects in which they are involved. Multiple members in the lab will then be able to organize their data in the same project while the group leader tracks its progress. Researchers can organize their data in either separate or shared studies and experiments. Project-based organization can be an ideal solution for organizations that need to maintain tighter control of their studies in order to keep them in line with related projects.
Of course, you can also mix the user-based and the project-based set-up or choose for a different organisation of the ELN. eLABJournal offers the flexibility to let your group decide what works best for your specific situation!
Particularly for larger groups, you can set up Project Groups to organize projects. A project group creates an extra organization level for group projects. Typical reasons for defining project groups are 1) to organize and collaborate on projects from different group leaders, or 2) to add an extra organisation level to organize projects by a general topic, such as an organism or year.
Naming Projects, Studies or Experiments
You should consider standardizing the naming of projects, studies and experiments. A number of examples are:
- Initials – Experiment title (e.g. ES – Cloning of yfg by PCR)
- Initial + incremental Number – Experiment title (e.g. ES001 – Cloning of yfg by PCR)
- Experiment title – Date (e.g. Cloning of yfg by PCR – 10/12/2015)
- Method – organism/gene/protein (e.g. Cloning of yfg by PCR – 10/12/2015)
While these are just a few examples of naming conventions for projects, you can use a similar strategy for studies and projects. No matter what you decide, an optimal organizational structure is easier to implement when everyone follows the same convention.
Institute-shared devices and storage locations
In many labs, storage locations are shared by multiple groups. For instance "lab A" uses the two upper sections and "lab B" uses the two lower sections in a freezer. In case both labs share projects, studies and experiments as well, both labs could be set up in eLabJournal as individual groups. If groups act as independent groups, the most practical solution is for both labs to set up the same storage locations in their group and to only add the relevant sections or compartments within that storage unit. We are currently working on enabling the sharing of storage locations and devices with other labs within the institute.
Searching in the Electronic Lab Notebook
eLabJournal includes a powerful text-based search engine that can be used to find projects, studies and experiments. As this is a text-based search engine, be sure to include relevant keywords in the section header or somewhere else in the experiment to be able to find back relevant information that is only present within linked data files.
You can define permission-based roles to fine-tune what actions users can take. To keep permission management clear and simple, you can set various permissions to view, update or remove items within eLabJournal. Permissions that are highly specific (ex. excluding certain drawers from a freezer) are currently not possible, so keep that in mind when virtualizing your storage devices.