Judging by this month’s cover story as well as the results of our latest Laboratory Spending Trends survey, it’s safe to say that federal budget cuts have created serious challenges for the scientific research community. NIH director Dr. Francis Collins reportedly called the cuts “an exercise in irrationality.” Phyllis Wise, chancellor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, characterizes the Budget Control Act of 2011 as “a short-term budget fix with a devastating cost to the long-term productivity of our economy and the vitality of our society.” However, there are others who believe that cutbacks will, in the long run, prove beneficial. “Proponents of this view even suggest that there may be creative ways to reapportion the current research funding pie,” says cover story author Bernard Tulsi.
Regardless of which side of the argument you’re on, times like these do require creative solutions. And one such solution is for lab managers to approach their fiscal challenges with the same attitude and energy they bring to scientific problems. Employ the smartest business and management strategies you can find to turn your lab into a lean, mean research machine.
Whether planned or accidental, one such business strategy mentioned in this year’s Spending Trends report is ordering lab products as needed and possibly last minute, rather than maintaining higher quantities in stock. This was the conjecture based on respondents ranking quick delivery high in their purchasing decisions. “Given that the majority of labs have experienced some form of budget restraint during the past five years, respondents may have become accustomed to ordering products as needed instead of stocking up, regardless of their current budget situation.” Another trend reported this year and also a good strategy for saving time is ordering laboratory products online. “Overall, purchasing products online from the distributor or manufacturer is the preferred acquisition method.”
Smarter business practices can also be applied to laboratory design projects. In this month’s INSIGHTS on that topic, author Angelo DePalma describes the trend toward “maximizing ‘grey’ (less stringently clean) space, and isolating it from highly specialized areas like clean rooms that are expensive to maintain.” He also says that flexible and modular design can minimize expensive and time consuming construction work, a trend that is based entirely on economics.
With regard to saving energy—another good business practice—managers need to consider the savings over time of replacing “outdated mechanical/air flow systems designed for large airconsuming fume hoods” with newly designed and more energy efficient ones. Waste not, want not is always sound advice—in good times and not such good times.
As for managing people under the current cloud of budget restraints, turn to this month’s article, “In the Trenches” for a reminder of the benefits of “management by walking around.” With often heavier workloads and budget challenges, the lab is the perfect setting to employ MBWA, letting managers learn the exact challenges their staff face and build a stronger sense of solidarity with their employees.
Lastly, Dr. Les Satin in this month’s Perspective On article says that his greatest challenges in running a lab are securing research funding, managing people, dealing with the daily frustrations of research itself, and getting good data. But, he adds, “It is precisely the fruit of overcoming these challenges that gives [him] a renewed enthusiasm to get up each morning and repeat his efforts to run the lab.”
Now that’s what I’m talking about.