Why keep a lab notebook?
The purpose of keeping a lab notebook in 20.109 is two-fold:
- To develop good lab practices for the future.
- To have a one-stop place to remember what you did each day and what the result was, which in turn will help you write up your research when the time comes.
More generally, remember that the goal of a notebook is to help you achieve the same results when you repeat a given experiment. For this reason, you must copy or paraphrase each wiki protocol, and also include any useful methods details that are either not specified on the wiki or that you deviate from, including
- Dilutions and how they were prepared
- Final concentrations (if only stocks are listed)
- Lot # or date prepared of buffers and other reagents
- when more than one is available
- Electrophoresis: running voltage and time
- Washes: number, volumes
- Incubation times and temperatures
You should also note any unusual changes to the protocol such as
- unexpected delays (“waterbath wasn’t ready so tubes kept on ice for one hour”),
- unanticipated conditions (“roller drum found off in AM”)
- unusual observations (“a large number of cells seemed to be floating”)
Lab notebook workflow in 20.109
We have recently switched to electronic notebooks, which we believe are easier and more accessible for you to work with. Specifically, we will use Evernote, a free-ware that is installed on all lab computers. You can download Evernote to your Mac or PC and access your lab notebook in the cloud while outside of the lab. This ubiquitous access will allow you to prepare for lab by adding the relevant protocol, prepping Excel sheets (or other data crunching software) for your calculations, etc. Furthermore, your results (gel images, ppt files, graphs, etc.) can be attached to each page, making data accessible and well-organized for easier report preparation. Finally, Evernote notebooks can be 'shared' with your TAs and teaching instructors to facilitate grading.
In the spirit of fairness, we instructors will keep Evernote notebooks that contain pre-lab lectures and other helpful information and share them with you! Overall, electronic notebooks should keep even more of the 20.109 process transparent for everyone and allowing easy and instant data sharing.
Elements of a successful lab notebook
No two scientists organize their lab notebooks identically, and there isn’t one “right” way for you to keep yours. There are some common elements that all lab notebooks share and some important habits you should develop in keeping your notebook for this class. All lab notebooks should be...
Your notebook is a place to collect descriptions of experimental goals, experimental procedures, all the data you collect, and your interpretations of results. In traditional paper notebooks, numerical data and calculations should be entered directly, rather than on scraps of paper to be entered later. In EN, you can either enter calculations directly, paste them from other software, or take a photograph of handwritten calculations and attach it. Data in the form of photographs, printouts, etc., can be attached directly to your EN notebook, whereas in traditional paper notebooks these would be taped inside (or referenced, depending on type and quantity of data).
Some scientists arrange their notebooks by date, others by the question being tested. What works best depends on the research itself and the researcher. Since this class has three experimental modules that are performed sequentially, your notebook will, by default, be organized by both date and project. You will keep a record of every lab meeting, including both the date and the Module/Day in your notebook.
We suggest keeping one EN notebook for the duration of 20.109, and one dedicated note for each lab day. (More recently edited notes will rise to the top of the notebook.)
3. Up to date
For this class, that means coming to lab with the date, Module/Day, title, and statement of purpose already entered in your notebook. It will occasionally be helpful to have data tables ready or some calculations performed as well. “Up to date” also means leaving lab with wiki protocols clearly paraphrased or copied/pasted in, any amendments you made to said protocols clearly noted, data entered, and perhaps some initial interpretation written up. Your notebook does not need a table of contents, but you should realize that most research notebooks do.
Advance preparation will be particularly important for the 20.S109 morning section.
This is a tricky element to preserve when we enter the digital world. There is a legal reason for noting changes from original pages -- if you have a great idea, you need to permanently record the date for patent applications! While it would be fantastic to file patents covering your data in 20.109, this outcome is unlikely. However, getting into the habit of changing font color or making a *note to show where you have updated text/figures/calculations will be useful for the future.
Evaluation of notebooks in 20.109
The 20.109 teaching assistants will examine your notebook pages for a specific day once per module. You will not know in advance which day will be collected. For example, on Module 2/Day 8, the notebook pages summarizing Module 2/Day 3 might be collected.
Each time, notebooks will be evaluated by the following rubric:
Lab Notebook Evaluation
Date of experiment √- √ √+
Module#/Day# √- √ √+
Title for experiment √- √ √+
Brief statement of purpose √- √ √+
Protocol √- √ √+
Tables for data entry √- √ √+
Calculations entered √- √ √+
Data labeled √- √ √+
Summary/interpretation √- √ √+
Overall √- √ √+
You will receive an evaluation for each category, as well as an overall score. All nine categories are important, but the latter six are deeper than the first three, and will be weighted accordingly.
Please share your notebook with each TA and your lab instructor at the beginning of the semester.
On the collection days, email the requested note to the TA for that module only, in order to provide a time-stamp for your work.
- Module 1, Day 7: either Day 4, 5, or 7 will be collected
- Module 2, Day 7: either Day 2, 3, 5, or 6 will be collected
- Module 3, Day 5: either Day 2, 3, 4, or 5 will be collected
In addition to the three graded spot checks, you may ask any instructor to look at your M1D1 notebook during class and give you in-person feedback about it.
Some other things you should know about lab notebooks
Traditional paper notebooks still dominate in many settings, and so you should be aware of the following information:
- They are the property of the research lab itself. Researchers who join the lab after you have left it will get to know you through the notebooks you have kept there. Ideally, your notebooks will reflect your most organized, clear and thoughtful side.
- They are legal documents. Labs in industry have special rules about lab notebooks since patent disputes and court cases often hinge on lab notebook entries.
- They are both personal and public. It is considered impolite and an invasion of privacy to read someone else’s notebook without their permission. Most people are happy to show you their notebooks when asked.