Lab Manager | Run Your Lab Like a Business

Adapting to Scientific Mobility

This column over the last year has dealt with many lab-related workforce issues, but one constant running through them has been the need for versatilability™—not just when it comes to the people managers hire, but in every aspect of a lab's business.

by Alan Edwards
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This column over the last year has dealt with many lab-related workforce issues, but one constant running through them has been the need for versatilability™—not just when it comes to the people managers hire, but in every aspect of a lab’s business.

After all, the big business of science is no longer sustained by the work of solitary chemists or biologists cooped up in their own worlds of specialized research. A Northwestern University analysis in 2009 of close to 20 million research papers archived in the Institute for Scientific Information database proves it: Faculty there found that all scientific fields are increasingly relying on teamwork to meet modern business goals.

That spirit of teamwork has led to a more creative way of doing business all around, from the development of specialized technology that enables scientists to share information quickly and efficiently to the management of complex endeavors entirely online.

Failing to become versatile and flexible in the sciences, then, means a company might not be able to enjoy all the benefits that come from such advances in the scientific workplace.

One high-profile area contributing to this new workplace reality is the use of mobile analytics and remote facilities. Anything you once could do only in a lab can now often be done in the field. And remote facilities are critical in their ability to provide specialized services for projects that might span a few U.S. states or even several continents. So where companies might have been unable to provide a service before, they now can with these remote capabilities—and along with it, increase their business.

The benefits of using mobile analytics and remote facilities have been clearly established, and nearly every scientific company now takes advantage of them. It’s an indication that scientific endeavors are happening more and more in a networked environment. In fact, your lab might be serving in this mobile capacity. The versatility that these labs must maintain when it comes to serving their customers only underscores even more strongly the need to hire the best and most versatile scientists.

Labs like this are more independent, and processes must be consistent with fluid standard operating procedures so that service and regulatory compliance are not compromised. From an employment standpoint, hiring processes must be just as consistent and must be maintained at a higher level to ensure continued high-quality service.

Managers should look for people with documented experience in current good practices, such as current good laboratory and clinical practices. Except for those who have only worked in academia, where additional regulation may be required as in commercial endeavors, not every scientist has this critical experience in adhering to mandated standards.

But having this experience will affect everything, from the way scientists write down information to how often they test their equipment to make sure it is calibrated correctly. Is a candidate comfortable with sample preparation, with method development, with validation? All of this sizes up a candidate’s ability to deliver value to your lab. Recruitment, then, must focus on seasoned scientists with documented experience in good practices to ensure a company is able to deliver the best results to their clients.

With mobile analytics and remote labs, the environment also tends to be a very multitasking one. The shift in projects is likely to happen quickly. Sometimes there is also a high volume of projects happening simultaneously.

This underscores the need in contract research organizations to employ people who have the kind of soft skills required to assimilate into a multitasking environment. Employees must be flexible and capable in their abilities to understand drastically different analytical environments. Yes, it runs almost contrary to their training because scientists are trained to be specialized. But the big business of science now dictates that scientists must be able to go beyond specialization in order to compete in the new scientific work environment.

The ability to work in a team environment is also crucial. Research and development is incredibly competitive as well as collaborative, and those working on a team often have a significant advantage when it comes to producing results ahead of the competition. Hire researchers who are ego-driven but who are also open to collaboration.

As always, by employing the right people with versatilability, highly collaborative labs will always provide a competitive edge in the new scientific workplace.