Keep your Lab Book up to Date

Keep your Lab Book up to Date

When PhDs and Post-Docs start in new lab they have the best intentions to keep their lab books up to date with notes, new research methods, data, and protocol information. These best efforts usually last for about a week, or for as long as they can see their professor walking about the lab. However, sooner or later diligence is lost and maintaining up to date notes on research methods and protocols happens once every blue moon.

Suddenly, stacks of western blots and PCR print-outs build up in drawers, lab books and lab benches, with barely legible labels, saved only by the dates from the PCR print-offs. Eventually, a random inspection from your professor or a looming lab meeting inspires you to dust off you lab book, get out the glue and fill in it in.Therefore I thought these few pieces of advice might help to you keep motivated in keeping your lab book up to date:

Bad Habits

Not keeping your lab book up to date will eventually introduce bad habits and thus bad science into your work, which will lead to a lot of frustration further down the line. Like a marathon runner, training everyday to reach those goals is a necessity and not keeping your notes up to date will result in failings in other parts of your research methods. 


To optimize an experiment you have to know what went wrong previously. Plus, since science is 99b% optimization, keeping your lab note book up date with every microlitre, mole or degree you change in your research methods will prevent mistakes being repeated. Furthermore, keeping your lab book up to date will allow you to review your data and let you deduce on what is going wrong with your optimization steps.

Lost Data

Considering that most molecular biology and chemistry experiments can take a week or month if you are working with mice, or years in the case of a social scientist, losing data is no option. Especially since it only takes one experiment to see your hypothesis in a new light. Even if you don’t keep your lab book up to date, try and store your data (Computer files included) in a safe place and logical order. When saving computer files creating a system of data file labelling will ensure data is never lost and easily retrievable.

Reproducible Experiments

When devising a new research method or protocol keeping your lab book up to date with the latest experiments and research methods are crucial. New experiments take a lot of effort to establish, especially since a lot of grad students end up trying to reinvent the wheel before making any progress. Your greatest observations only become results once they are reproducible and maintaining your lab book is one way of ensuring that your produce great data.

15th Mar 2021 Sean Mac Fhearraigh

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