Lab Manager | Run Your Lab Like a Business

Setting Up Your New Lab Like a CEO

Between managing finances, purchasing equipment, and hiring staff, setting up a new laboratory requires you to operate with a business mindset

by GE Life Sciences
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"Just like a business, finances are an essential aspect of operating a lab. Experiments can only run with sufficient equipment, supplies, and personnel."

Starting your own lab is both an enormous accomplishment and an ambitious undertaking. After years of intensive research, struggle, and relentless effort, you have earned a position that enables you to pursue your own research interests. Unfortunately, setting up a laboratory to ensure years of productive research requires more than a wealth of scientific knowledge. Running a lab is more than experiments and manuscripts; in many ways, it’s just like running a business. Starting a lab involves funding applications, resource allocation for equipment and staff, as well as leadership and management considerations. Investing time at the outset to plan and organize your “business” helps keep your lab running smoothly so you can answer your most important research questions.

Laboratory Finances

Applying for grants and managing funds can be a complicated matter for a new laboratory. It is important to consider the immediate and future needs of the lab when allocating resources and applying for additional funding. Start-up funding packages are designed to allow newly hired researchers to setup a basic laboratory and begin to generate data to secure additional grant funding. These packages range dramatically across different countries, fields, and institutions.

Prior to negotiating a start-up funding package, consider all the resources you will require to conduct your research including staff, equipment, samples, and reagents. It may also be helpful to do some research on what resources are already available to you. If the institution has a core facility, for example, you may have access to various instruments and equipment and can allocate funds toward other resources.

When discussing start-up funds, it is important to ascertain how long the funds are available and what resources they are meant to cover—equipment, graduate students, technicians, etc. Careful planning is required to allocate these funds toward assets that will ensure the first few years of research will yield sufficient data for grant applications.

The difficulty lies in navigating this process with no prior experience. For graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, grant applications are often limited to individual projects, and there are few opportunities to learn the intricacies of budgeting for equipment and staff. A good starting place is to speak with mentors, colleagues, and peers. These individuals can offer insight on how to negotiate funding packages, how to allocate funds in the short-term, and plan for long-term needs.

Short-term equipment purchases can determine the long-term research direction of your laboratory, and either be a help or hinderance to future grant applications. Being aware of popular topics and trends in your field can help you to invest in resources and conduct preliminary research that leaves room for exploration in well-funded areas. Just like a business, finances are an essential aspect of operating a lab. Experiments can only run with sufficient equipment, supplies, and personnel.

Organize and Equip Your Lab

After tackling start-up funding negotiations and carefully planning and budgeting for resources, it’s time to purchase equipment and supplies and organize your lab space. There are several considerations that help in the design of a functional, productive laboratory space.

For some, moving into an existing lab space means integrating workflows into existing infrastructure. Others have the opportunity to design a new space to facilitate their research. In either case, numerous design elements will determine how a space is equipped and organized. Spend some time envisioning your workflows in the new space and factor in equipment and lab members. Consider where equipment will be placed based on access to electrical outlets, water, gas, etc., how available bench space and cold cabinets/rooms are optimized to fit the needed equipment, and whether this will contribute to crowding in certain spaces. If separate office spaces are not available for technicians and students, it may be necessary to incorporate desk space into the lab. Ideally, desks should be located away from noisy, high traffic areas and should not impede the flow of an experiment.

Having the right equipment for your research is essential, but sharing equipment is an excellent way to reduce costs. Prior to purchasing your own instruments, speak with colleagues and determine if there is some overlap in techniques between your laboratories. Sharing frequently used equipment like pH meters or vortexes may not be feasible, but microplate readers and ice machines may easily be shared between laboratories. When purchasing equipment or supplies for cloning, cell culture, sample prep, protein purification, analysis, etc., speak with vendors and ask about start-up equipment packages. Consider different aspects of the offerings such as training, support for installing, and service of equipment. In some cases, investing in certified refurbished equipment may be a good option.

Safety precautions and training are non-negotiable in all laboratories. It is important to be aware of safety requirements such as eye-wash stations and showers, ventilation, containing compressed gas cylinders, etc. when setting up a lab space. Ensuring equipment is in good working order at all times is also an important safety consideration. You may wish to discuss an ongoing service and maintenance agreement with instrument vendors.

Organizing an efficient lab space requires a delicate balance between equipment, supplies, traffic, and desk space, all without compromising safety and research outcomes.

New Lab Management and Staffing

Even the most well-funded laboratory with state-ofthe art instrumentation will not be productive without the right team of people in place. Just as a business will have an owner, manager, assistant manager, and various staff, a lab requires leadership and well-trained staff to conduct high quality research.

"A clear understanding of specific staff needs and budget will make the hiring process easier."

A clear understanding of specific staff needs and budget will make the hiring process easier. A small lab may be very productive with a few graduate students, or a post-doctoral researcher and a few graduate students. Larger laboratories with numerous undergraduate and graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, and even principal investigators can benefit from a skilled lab manager to keep operations running smoothly. In addition to coordinating projects, assisting with data collection, training new students and lab members, and providing technical expertise, a lab manager can handle numerous administrative tasks.

Once you have determined your staffing requirements, compile written job descriptions for each role. These documents can help you determine which qualifications are necessary for the position and help candidates identify positions for which they wish to apply. Recruitment can be done formally via advertisements for post-doctoral researchers, technicians, and lab managers in scientific journals, or on your website. Generating interest for all positions can be done informally. A quick mention at the end of a meeting or presentation, or a brief announcement in a senior undergraduate class may encourage students interested in pursuing graduate work to contact you. Networking events and colleagues can also help you recruit new hires. Some institutions offer recruitment support, and many departments have graduate networking events, seminars, and offer students lab rotations. Participating in these events will increase your visibility to prospective students.

Hiring well-qualified candidates to form a productive team, and developing a positive laboratory culture are essential for a successful research program. GE can help with setting up the protein research workflow in your new laboratory set up.

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