Data Management of the Future: Electronic Lab Notebooks.

Are you prepping your virtual classrooms this week? What about lab meetings? Virtual meetings such as Zoom allow for communicating across the globe, but what about data sharing? In the era of big data generation and management it is getting harder to simply share an Excel file with a simple data set. Large high quality TIFF images, large data sets, complicated analyses, all contribute to potentially poor data management for labs and make it difficult to share data files by conventional methods. Enter Electronic Lab Notebooks or ELNs.

Electronic Notebooks have been around for a few years but have recently enetered the spotlight as preferred alternatives to paper experimental recordings. I remember during my master’s in 2013-2015 I used a paper notebook, it was manageable with only a few projects going on at that point. But in the big leagues of PhD life, electronic notebooks have saved my life. I use the electronic notebook SciNote. I chose this notebook because it was easy to use and was the only notebook I found that had Microsoft Office integrated into its interface. After 4 years I must stay that using an electronic notebook has greatly improved my organization of the multiple collaborations I am on and has allowed me to easily share, store, and access all my #hotdata from anywhere in the world.

I must say that I have pushed the use of electronic notebooks on many labs since starting with my own. For small labs of 3-5 researchers to large labs of 20/30+ it really can make your life so much easier. Uploading of raw data makes sure that nothing can be lost in the event of electronic disaster. I take this a little further and backup my data to an external hard drive, my electronic notebook, and my personal laptop……I like data.

In reality there are many electronic notebooks out there. Recently, the LabsExplorer published an article discussing the benefits of electronic notebooks and reviewed the top electronic notebooks on the market. I will say that there are a plethora of electronic notebooks out there but if you understand what your priorities are then it can be easy to select what is best for you. Many electronic notebooks also function as a lab management tool and can be used to sort inventory and keep track of purchases.

The electronic notebook era has received a lot of press and has even been featured in a 2018 Nature article. If you are thinking to start using electronic lab notebooks I highly recommend it. It is not an easy transition but once you make that committment it will make your life so much easier. I have a tablet that I use in the lab and everything is at the touch of my finger and there is no doubt that my data is always organized and safely stored. If you’re not sure about which notebook to use, give them a trial. Most notebooks are free for small groups (3 users) and therefore you can trial using these notebooks before purchasing one for your lab.

Do you already use an electronic notebook in your lab? Please share which one you use and what you like the most about it!


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