Lab notebooks are one of the less glamorous parts of being a scientist. You must meticulously record what you do each day so that some day in the future, someone could read it and replicate that day’s work. Or when you realize you discovered something you would like to patent, you must prove that you indeed thought of it on a particular day.
Confession: I am particularly terrible at maintaining my lab notebook. In graduate school, I performed pretty much the same protocol day after day with little variation other than the genotype of the flies I was observing. Writing this down every single day is just painful. I also collected my data via imaging. Printing out every single image and affixing it to my notebook with tape just didn’t seem very efficient to me. When I left the lab, I left behind a rather short notebook but a very detailed antibody use sheet and terabytes of imaging data.
There must be a better way than the old-fashioned paper notebook to record and annotate lab work. I’m sure that writing in a notebook still works well for some scientists however, with the advent of huge digital data sets and imaging data the paper notebook is insufficient. Recently, Science Careers raised this issue. There are several different electronic lab notebook platforms that are currently available (eCAT and irisnote) as well as using free Evernote software which was not developed specifically for lab note-keeping. These electronic notebooks enable more detailed record keeping and better coordination for other electronic data. The electronic format would also allow notebooks to be accessed from other locations and for investigators to review their trainee’s data. Would you switch to an electronic lab notebook? What would you need from the software in order to make the switch? For non-scientists, do you tend to keep paper records of all transactions or have you moved to collecting digital documentation?