Lab Manager | Run Your Lab Like a Business

Expanding Responsibilities

A scientist/manager’s role now includes much more than producing sound research results

by Pamela Ahlberg
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Over the past few years, we’ve heard the broad business mandates: “Better, faster, cheaper,” and “Do more with less.” Besides the fact that they come with precious little guidance for carrying them out,
these mandates also add a layer of stress and distract from other aspects of running a lab. For those
whose careers stretch over decades, these new business demands may also make them long for the days when a scientist/manager’s sole responsibility was to produce sound research results. But that’s not the case anymore.

“To stay in the game, lab [managers] have to become quite adept at business-critical decisions, such as the correct balance between in-house testing and outsourcing, which has implications for recruiting, hiring and overall staffing. They have to keep acute focus on the supply chain, on their budgets, and the purchasing of capital equipment and consumables. Opportunities for profitable collaboration such as in benchmarking or the sharing of scarce resources have to be explored with vigor,” says Bernard Tulsi in this month’s cover story.

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In addition, this month’s Technology article, “IT’s Complicated,” tells of further breakdown of the wall between the lab and outside business entities: “Today’s laboratory instruments, which rely heavily on complex software to drive them, have forced previously isolated labs into a more dependent relationship with information technology. With that relationship comes continual change and disruption as new laboratory systems require regular tweaks and upgrades. A far cry from the days when changes in the lab were controlled and agreed upon by the researchers who worked there.”

As if developing greater business acumen and having to work with an IT team wasn’t enough, this month’s “Perspective on: A Cell Culture Lab” reminds us of the important responsibility of employee training. Jennifer Miller, the Cell Culture Core (C3) laboratory manager at Chromocell Corporation (North Brunswick, NJ), “is responsible for ensuring that there is a properly-sized, fully-trained staff to handle the workload for her lab.” But rather than bemoan the additional burden, Miller says about her company’s college student interns, “We need to teach them all the best practices to work in the lab and on a team from the get-go to set them up for long-term success.”

Anything else? you might ask. Well, in fact, yes. Namely, the responsibility for improving your lab’s power efficiency. According to this month’s Product Focus article on laboratory power supplies, Mark Swift says, “Lots of funding is tied to reductions in power usage, so there’s a need [for lab managers] to see where they’re starting from before they can put together a plan to reduce it.”

Lastly on this expanding list of lab manager responsibilities is the issue of business ethics, which this year’s Lab Manager Bootcamp presenter Frank Bucaro will address at Pittcon next month in Chicago. In that presentation, he will “show how ethics is a key ingredient in business and personal success, and will provide practical ideas to help with difficult decisions.” 

With all of this on your plate, I hope your New Year’s resolutions included the decision to face these new challenges with renewed vigor and commitment. And, just so you know, Lab Manager will be there to help. Best,

Pamela Ahlberg

Correction: On page 53 of the December 2013 issue, we mistakenly identified Alex Spector as the president of, when the correct url is