Debbie Knight

Data sharing in collaborative research not always easy

In observation on May 31, 2012 at 9:00 am

A problem that comes up when two or more labs collaborate is how to share the data with the group … beyond the lab meeting.

This issue came up in our meeting today.

We had a system of writing up summaries of the week’s results and sending them to one of the professors to archive. This was supposed to be what he called “a living document.” But the problem is that the information goes to him but is not easily shared amongst the group.

The research has grown and we need a better way to share the data and other information.

We do not have a group website at the moment, not do we have the time to build one at the moment – we’re too busy doing experiments and keeping up with the science literature to build one.  So that option is “out” for the moment.

There is something called an “electronic lab notebook” which is essentially a website that allows people to share information. It allows people to upload not just data, but PDF’s of journal articles that are relevant to the data entry (like where the experimental design came from) or information about the materials used in the experiment (like lot numbers, expirations dates, how many times the reagent has been frozen and thawed, etc.). The amount of content that can be put in these entries is unlimited since it is online.

The beauty of these electronic lab notebooks is they are searchable – just enter a key word and all the entries that contain that word are brought together. You can compare what reagents were used in experiments that worked and compare them to what didn’t work – perhaps a reagent has lost its potency over time. It might become obvious when comparing these experiments side by side.

Sounds great, so what is the problem?

It’s the cost to subscribe to the service and to maintain the service. These are, after all,  replacements for the hardcopy lab notebook. So if you don’t pay to maintain the service, I’m not sure what happens to those records. Are they gone forever?

While the electronic notebook seems a good solution for our problem, money is tight so we will have to look at more economical ways to share our data.

After much discussion we have decided to try Google Docs to share the data and relevant scientific literature. This sounds like a good low-budget option for our needs. Although we will have to bring at least two of the professors up to speed on how to use Google Docs — you know, bring them into the 21st century.

We’re going to try it and see how it works. (I will let you know in a later update)

If any of you readers have had a similar problem and have found a solution, by all means, please share your suggestions. Your input would be most appreciated.

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