Once you’ve settled into your lab manager job, you may find yourself wondering how you can improve and make things run more smoothly for the researchers you are working with. Here we’ve compiled 10 ways you can up your lab manager game, some of which you can even change overnight!

While every lab manager runs their own lab a little differently than the next, putting in a little extra effort here and there can go along way with those you are working with. Most members of your team will be able to tell how hard you are trying to make their lives easier, and it will be greatly appreciated!

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Keep a Positive Environment

This first step might sound like a given, but it can be difficult to do at times. Keeping a positive atmosphere in the research lab is so important because things don’t always go as planned and people can become discouraged if their project doesn’t work out. Some ways to keep the environment happy include simply smiling and greeting members of your team, asking them how they’re doing first and then asking about how their projects are going. If someone is struggling, try to give them some encouraging words that can help them get out of any slump they may be in.

Additionally, keeping a positive environment becomes imperative when mistakes are made. As the lab manager, it is your job to handle things when they go wrong, and you can choose the way you conduct yourself on these occasions. Try to be understanding and accepting when people make mistakes so that they are not afraid or reluctant to approach you and tell you when things go awry.

Other ways to keep a positive environment are to encourage your labmates to get to know each other outside of the lab—have a monthly lab dinner at a restaurant or even host a game night. Getting to know each other personally can be a great way to build friendships and a more enjoyable work atmosphere.

Reorganize the Lab

Reorganizing the lab to make daily tasks more efficient can greatly improve your lab’s productivity. However, it is important that you take baby steps in changing where supplies are located so that team members do not return to work one morning unable to find any of the things they need. Reorganize one section of the lab at a time. To make the organization more efficient, you should put supplies in the general location of where they will be used. For example, cuvettes for your spectrophotometer should be located near the spectrophotometer and not on the other side of the room. This applies for all instruments!

When organizing, some people forget about the lab fridges and freezers. You don’t want to have to go through the entire fridge to find what you need, but should be able to find it right away in its designated spot. For tips on fridge organization, check out our previous GoldBio article, 10 Easy Tips to Finally Organize your Laboratory Fridge/Freezer.

Before rearranging, you may ask the team if they have any suggestions and give them a chance to let you know of things they won’t want touched. Then, after you have made changes, remember to let your team know what has been moved and where they can find their supplies when you do any reorganizing. Leave a note and send them an email if you cannot notify them in person immediately.

Keep Essentials In-Stock

This may seem like an easy task, but without a good system in place, it can be hard to know when supplies are low before they actually run out. Since ordering takes time and supplies usually need to be shipped, when things run out, many projects have to be put on hold. Not only does this decrease productivity, but it also frustrates members of the lab who are relying on you to take care of the ordering. There are a few methods you can use to ensure efficient supply levels. One method is to use a lab management software program that helps you to monitor levels of supplies.

An alternative to a professional lab management software program is to simply use Google Sheets. Google Sheets provides accessibility to all members within your lab, and it’s a system commonly used by many researchers. Have materials signed out when they are used by updating the spreadsheet accordingly. Google Sheets are free and easy to use and can be opened anywhere so you always have a log of your inventory at your fingertips.

Hold Weekly Meetings

When everyone is busy working on projects, members of the lab can easily become disengaged with what others in the lab are working on. By holding weekly or bi-weekly meetings, everyone can be brought back to the same page. Also, you can discuss what is working well in the lab and where improvements may need to be made.

One strategy you can use to get everyone reacquainted with each other’s tasks is to have each researcher state their high point and low point of the previous week. This can help team members to see what achievements the lab as a whole is making and can also allow you to discuss and encourage members who had low points in the progression of their research.

Ibuprofen and Tissues

Everyone has days when they aren’t even feeling 50%, but they have to go to work anyway. Maybe you woke up this morning with a headache but ran out the door without remembering to take any ibuprofen. Maybe your allergies have been acting up like crazy due to changes in the weather. Regardless of what the reason is, we’ve all been there, and it can really put a damper on your day if you don’t have the necessities for your comfort. Having ibuprofen and tissues and other goodies available in your office for lab members who may need them is a great way to show that you care about your team and how they feel at work. This is really going above and beyond, but it is worth it if it helps your lab keep their efficiency at a maximum.

Emergency Candy Stash

Perhaps my favorite recommendation of the ten is having an emergency candy stash. When someone is having a bad day, candy can be a great pick-me-up. Having a candy stash in your office is also a great way to encourage visits from your team, which can increase communication. Not to mention, you never know when someone might be feeling hypoglycemic or just needs an energy boost! I suggest having at least one type of chocolate at hand, but any type of candy will do!

SOPs for Instruments and Daily Tasks

Standard Operating Procedures are put in place so that everyone completes a task the same way as the next person. This is very important when it comes to repeatability in research. New members will be added to your team every so often and they will need to be trained accordingly. Having a set of SOPs for them to follow during their first few weeks in your lab will help them to be confident they are performing tasks accurately and competently. SOPs are great to have on hand regardless of having new team members. If questions come up, lab members can refer to the SOP before seeking help from another resource. Moreover, when it comes time to publish results, you can be sure that reproducibility will not be an issue if everything was done following the standard protocol.

Write Letters of Recommendation that Stand Out

As a lab manager, some of your team members may ask you for letters of recommendation, especially if they are students applying for postdoc positions or otherwise. These letters of recommendation can make or break the next step in a person’s career, and they come in a variety of forms.

Some people take time to write out thoughtful letters while others just use a standard form to get the letter done and out of the way. First and foremost, you should be honest in giving one of your team members a reference, but if you feel comfortable giving them a positive recommendation, then taking the time out to do so on an individual basis can make a huge difference in their careers. Paint your teammates in the best light possible, and they will remember you putting in the effort as their lab manager.

Seek Out Continuing Ed Opportunities

In research, continuing education is very important. Essentially, reading papers and keeping up-to-date with the literature is one way researchers can continue their education. They can also continue learning through attending conferences where other scientists present their research. There are also continuing education courses for scientists as well. Some of these are sponsored through professional organizations such as the American Chemical Society or through universities such as Rutgers. As a lab manager, you have the opportunity to schedule continuing education events for you and your labmates that they might not otherwise participate in. You can look into these events and how they fit into your team’s budget.

Listen

Last but certainly not least, is
listen. This is by far one of the most important steps you can take to up your lab manager game. When your team comes to you with concerns, achievements, and even failures, listen. When they come to you telling you they are out of a reagent they need, listen. When they come to you to tell you about a conflict in the lab, listen. Listening is an important part of leadership, perhaps the most important and it can go a long way. Don’t just listen to the highest tier member of your lab, but pay attention to the lab technicians and students, too. Everyone is a valuable part of the team, and your projects will flow much better if everyone feels valued.

There are certain steps you can take to become a better listener. In Five Steps to More Compassionate Listening, Dr. Ann Becker-Schutte discusses a few listening topics such as the need to avoid projecting. She explains that typically when we do this, we end up jumping to the next step without actually hearing the person’s story. Other steps she discusses include validating the speaker and asking them how you can help.

When you follow these ten steps to upping your game as a lab manager, you’ll be raising the bar for all lab managers at your university. Setting an example for your colleagues through your extra effort and through maintaining an atmosphere of positivity and teamwork in your own lab will start to energize others and boost productivity across the department.

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Rebecca Talley
GoldBio Staff Writer

Rebecca is a medical student at the University of Missouri.
She previously worked as a lab technician while studying
biology at Truman State University. As an aspiring
reproductive endocrinologist with an interest in global
health, Rebecca has traveled across Central America on
medical mission trips. With a passion for the life sciences,
she enjoys writing for GoldBio.

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