New Lab Set Up – Best Practices for a Successful Start

Show Notes

We began the podcast by talking about how setting up a new lab can feel overwhelming and what is the best place to start and first steps to take. The advice given was to start with four simple steps:

  1. What do I need? Take your aims and break them into experiments and then break those experiments down to steps to get a framework for the types of equipment and consumables that you will need to conduct your work.
  2. What do I have?
  3. What can I borrow or share? Are there other labs in the same building that could share equipment with you if it is something that you don’t need often?
  4. Who will help purchase? Are there other labs that would be willing to split the cost of equipment?

Once these questions are answered, you will have a good list of what you need to buy and whether there are any opportunities to share those costs. Other advice included taking pictures and measurements of the space. It is important to understand the space layout and amount of space to be able to plan for lab set up. Additionally, it is helpful to know your administrators, as they may have contacts with vendors or other labs that could help with the purchasing.

Next, I asked who they thought should be involved in the new lab planning and set up. They said that there would always be unexpected voices, but there are certain people who can really contribute to your success. They recommended connecting with other primary investigators at your university as they will be familiar with any quirks of the building or space. Secondly, use your vendors. They will have knowledge of the equipment or consumables you need and since they see many other labs, they may be able to provide additional advice when it comes to set up of the lab space and specifically their equipment in that space.

It is important that all personnel have some input as they understand how specific protocols are run and any associated ergonomic challenges or space requirements. It is important to designate a lab manager or primary investigator to take all opinions, weight them and make final decisions to keep things organized and on track.

We then talked about maximizing lab space. Both Cat and Ann felt that creating zones for areas of equipment was an important consideration in making the lab more efficient. Zones can be created through the lens of safety requirements, which makes it easier for technicians to comply and the process overall more efficient. It is also helpful to think about the size of the equipment, and if possible, group large pieces of equipment together, say in a common space to ensure there is enough space to navigate around the equipment. This will leave more functional lab space elsewhere and will simplify traffic patterns. Function is key, so  it is important to really consider how the lab will function.

I then asked them if they had advice on how to stay within budget when purchasing equipment. They had some great tips. Think about how much you will actually use a piece of equipment. If it isn’t very often think about borrowing or sharing with another lab. You can also look into whether your University has a core facility that you could use on a pay as you go basis.

This is another good place to use vendors as they might offer new lab bundles that can save money and time. If a piece of equipment is a workhorse in your lab , it is important to consider maybe spending a bit more and getting the best equipment for your application. Also service contracts with preventative maintenance plans can really save time and money in the long run. It is the worst to lose time and even experiments due to equipment issues.

Next I asked about staying within budget for consumables. Ann and Cat had great thoughts here too. If the consumable is unique to your work and no other lab around you would stock it, then it is critical to have that on hand at all times and stock up. If it is something that you could borrow, if you run low, then maybe don’t worry about stocking up in advance. It is also good to take advantage of promotional deals that your vendor might be running, but be sure to consider where to store back stock. The same pricing principle applies here. It might be worth it to purchase the better quality consumable if it means that your experiments will be more consistent and reproducible.

We then discussed balancing being well stocked vs. overbuying. They both suggested putting the vendor to work here. They will have insight into how long it takes to get products that are critical to your work. Is there any lead time on these products, if yes, then maybe you want to stock up. If it is something that they always have in inventory, then you don’t need to buy as much. It is also important to decide who in the lab will have responsibility for ordering. It is good to have one person in charge, so that they can be sure that the lab always has what it needs and there aren’t any miscommunications.

Next we talked about lab safety and ensuring the best safety practices. Cat explained that what was helpful to her in the past was to set up “Guardians” of each piece of equipment. They were then responsible for training new employees for that piece of equipment.

When discussing lab training, there were other key tips. Since training is ongoing, especially in labs with high turnover, a lab manual is very helpful. It can be electronic and could include trainings, quizzes, etc. Another helpful resource is on-demand webinars. For example, Corning has webinars on basic cell culture techniques and other basic lab introductory topics. General topics like these can be used as training tools that do not have to be created internally.

Training Resources:

Another important aspect of training that shouldn’t be ignored are training for administrative, maintenance or safety tasks. These are critical to lab functioning and it is important that more than one person knows how to order or maintain equipment for example.

I closed the interview by asking if they had any additional advice. The takeaways were to use your vendors and distributors to help you navigate the process. There are lots of choices when it comes to products, so tell them what is important to you, performance, price, brand, etc. and then let them present a list of options based on those needs. They can suggest promos and other ways to save money and order efficiently. For example, Corning is currently running a New Lab Promo: Stock your lab with brands you know and trust and we’ll give you free lab supplies equal to 25% of your total purchase. Some restrictions apply.

Lastly planning is so important, be sure to take the time to plan upfront.

For more information, please see the following resources:

How to Set Up a New Lab From Scratch

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