A Discourse on Electronic Lab Notebooks

Sep 11 2015 Published by under Data, Lab, Postdoc

Is anyone using an ELN system for their lab. I've been looking at a few, Evernote in particular, to help me keep my multiple projects organized? Didn't know if you found a helpful system or what difficulties you had in implementing this?

11 responses so far

  • anon says:

    our group tried a number of "real" ELN geared towards experimental scientists. They were variously: clunky, forcing you into certain formats, requiring oversight from a group administrator (usually PI)... we ultimately voted them down. Almost everyone in the institute uses Microsoft OneNote or Evernote now. The most difficult part of it was switching over from paper to computer - for a couple of weeks, you kind of feel lost between them, having to refer to both. But once things start to get digitised, it's fine. You do have to remember to back up once in a while, as we know people who have lost notes due to glitches.

    I use Evernote. My favourite things about it are: 1) Being able to keyword search lab notes (whether typed in or scanned handwritten notes); 2) having access to my lab notebook everywhere (mobile, web, laptop); 3) web clipping
    hope that helps!

  • chemicalbilology says:

    We use a combination of a project management tool called TeamGantt and Dropbox for shared file storage. I also make my folks keep a paper notebook for the active record, though.

  • kcatkm says:

    We use Evernote, I bought an upgraded account and set up the lab with a free account. I share the online notebooks for each project with the lab account and do weekly backups to the Uni server and my own external storage (HTML export). Students still keep paper notebooks because they prefer to, but once an experiment is complete, the method, data, and analysis end up in Evernote. I like it for having the ability to do in text links to other documents like the template method or related experiments. Also, being able to look at data when I am at home or traveling is nice.

    The issue with Evernote compared to commercial ELN is no templates/standard information for experiments, but I made a set of templates for standard lab protocols (mutagenesis, transformations, protein purifications, assays, etc.) that students just have to copy and fill-in-the-blanks. I have three projects spread across 11 students so some students work on multiple projects, so I also give students a tag and type of experiment a tag to put on each experiment so I can pull up someone's "notebook" within a project quickly or see what we have done in each type of experiment.

    We also use Dropbox and a Uni server for file sharing. Presentations and data collected away from the Uni go into Dropbox. Home collected data end up on the Uni server. And, as before, I back up everything on the Uni server and Dropbox for later.

  • Ed says:

    My lab recently started using Onenote. Various people tried using Evernote in the past, and somehow it just wasn't useful enough or intuitive enough to convince people to switch.

    I got a Surface Pro 3 this January, after salivating about the possibility of a good tablet PC with pen input. I've been using it as my lab notebook exclusively since then, and I'm very happy with it. I can write up a protocol or the introduction to an experiment while sitting at my desk, and then take the tablet with me to the bench or the microscope. Then, back at my desk, I can copy-paste any images or datasets right into the notebook. It works really well for me.

    My PI has been convinced so far, and she's had the rest of the lab start using Onenote. There I think the results have been a little more mixed, simply because most people are using ordinary desktop or laptop computers, so they still need to jot things on a pad of paper at the bench. Some people are pretty good about entering everything into their Onenote notebook before and after the benchwork, others put it off and as you might expect some of the details are lost to time and disorganized scraps of paper.

    We take advantage of some of the sharing features to various degrees. My PI has the account that technically "owns" the notebook, but obviously I'm allowed to view and edit it, and I think other lab members have viewing permission. I write up semi-regular (weekly~monthly) summaries of my results for my PI, and when I do it's pretty convenient to have links directly to the part of the lab notebook where each experiment is recorded.

    Onenote has a few other neat tricks, including some basic Excel integration (you can save a spreadsheet "within" a Onenote page).

    If you'd like, I'd be happy to show you a few pages of my Onenote lab notebook, to give you a feel for how I use it and how I organize things.

  • Ed says:

    Hmm, not sure if my last comment was eaten or it's sitting in a moderation queue.

    To summarize, my lab is using Onenote. I got a Surface Pro 3 earlier this year, and the way it works both as a traditional windows PC and a pretty slick tablet is very handy in the lab. I can type up a protocol at my desk, use my computer as a tablet at the bench where I can directly record observations with the pen, and then go back to my desk to paste in data, images, and analysis. Everything is in one place. Previously, I had a pretty haphazard system where some things would be on paper, other things in files on my computer, and those files would themselves be out of date because I printed them out and scribbled important things in the margins...

    My PI was sold on the concept after I did this for a few months, and has other people in the lab using Onenote. However, since most of them use a standard laptop or desktop, they still need a pad of paper at the bench. Some people are pretty good at returning to their computer at the end of the day to update their Onenote notebook, but others put if off and end up with a pretty sparse and incomplete record of what they did.

    If you'd like I'd be happy to show you a few pages from my lab notebook to give you an idea of how I use it.

    • genomicrepairman says:

      Sorry Ed, it was the comment moderation system. I apologize for the delays in approving it. The system that you have is pretty much to the letter what I want to implement.

      Thanks for the input.

    • Ben says:

      Hi Ed,
      I have decided to try OneNote as a lab notebook. Would you mind sharing your organizational method? A few pages or screenshots would be helpful. Thanks.

  • Ben says:

    Hi Ed,
    I have decided to give OneNote a try as a lab notebook. Would you mind sharing your organizational method? A few pages or screenshots might be good.

    • genomicrepairman says:

      Sadly Ben, I ended up abandoning it as it was a bit clunky. But that is probably moreso to do with me not investing enough time into it to make it more streamlined and practical to what I do.

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