Lab members are typically in charge of their own data and notes. But institutional memory is better served if the team works together, say Stephen McInturff and Victor Adenis.
During the 2020 COVID-19 shutdown, one of us (S.M.), a graduate student at the time, was asked to write a short manuscript using a previous laboratory member’s unpublished data. Thinking it would be a quick and easy pandemic project that would lead to a publication and a chapter in his dissertation, he happily took on the project. But the happiness didn’t last.
Full and complete lab notes are an essential component of good science. They facilitate the replication of work and the understanding of data. Good note taking practices should be stressed in scientific professional development and lamp orientation. Supervisors and senior researchers have a key role to play in the space.
As longer-term lab members who have borne and continue to bear the brunt of continuing older projects, we think these problems arise from a misplaced assignment of responsibility. Academia heaps most of the burden of documentation and data storage onto individuals, instead of the lab as a whole. At the same time, little, if any, instruction is provided to teach individuals how to properly document and store their data. But labs can mitigate data loss by implementing three simple suggestions.