Transitioning to an ELN

Ready to switch to the campus ELN? The list below will walk you through the process of getting an account, organizing your notebook, and maintaining quality research data online.

Request an Account

If you have PI status or act as your PI’s designee please fill out this form and a service team member will contact you shortly. While not required, we find labs are much more successful with the ELN if they meet with a Service Team member. This meeting can be a one-on-one with the PI, a lab meeting presentation, or something in between.

Solo researchers and those working outside a traditional PI model can also request an account. A Service Team member will be available to meet with you to help with set up and answer questions.

If you do not have PI status and work for a PI or faculty member, please talk with them about this service and encourage them to find out more. Students and staff working in labs run by a PI must have their permission to use the ELN, and the PI must be the owner of all notebooks that contain data from their lab.

Organize Your Notebook

With paper notebooks, each lab member is usually is assigned their own notebook and only one lab member can write in it at a time. However, with an ELN, the situation is somewhat different since multiple lab members can record in a notebook at the same time, and it is easy to share the contents of notebooks. When you are setting up the ELN for your lab, you will want to consider what the organizational framework will be for notebooks (e.g. by lab member, project, grant, theme, research question, etc.) and whether individual or multiple user notebooks will be used.

Individual versus multiple-user lab notebooks?

In many cases, notebooks that are used by multiple lab members in an ELN system make sense. Multi-person notebooks can make it easier to:

  • Search and retrieve all entries related to a project
  • Use standard notebook structures, folder hierarchies, sets of supporting documents (such as protocols, inventories, etc.) across multiple lab members.
  • Share information between lab members and avoid replicating the effort required to set up and manage groups, roles, and rights in individual lab members’ notebooks.

However, using individual notebooks on the ELN platform may make sense in labs where individual lab members work on very different projects or do not need to collaborate or share data.

Naming conventions in an ELN

Consider adopting a naming convention for folders and notebook pages for your lab. For example:

  • Userinitials-YYYY-Projectname (convention for notebook title)
  • Experiment#-Name-UserInitials-YYYYMMDD (convention for notebook pages)
    • Synthesis-of-PZQ-Reagent1-KVS-20140218
    • Modification-of-fat-cells-gene-expressionFatcells34-GD-20140214
    • STX23-MMS-20140207

A meaningful convention – any descriptive convention – will make it much easier to find and search your data later on. If you give your pages and folders generic names that don’t provide a context eg. “experiment1” , “raw data” , “cell culture” it will be almost impossible to see which page relates to which experiment without checking every page. Naming conventions can also be used for attached files. Eg. STX23-RNA.xlsx or STX23-COL1A1.rex; STX23-OsteoCellsDay3x200.jpg. Then, when you or your team search for a result, it’s obvious where the file belongs. While the ELN does record the user and date/time for every entry, adding initials and dates to page or folder titles will make your notebook easier to visually scan.

Large file storage

While the data storage within the LabArchives ELN is unlimited, the maximum individual file upload size is 4GB and anything larger should be placed elsewhere. You should provide a reference link in the notebook to the file, and that link needs to remain intact, unaltered, and accessible for many years. If your departmental IT staff cannot assist with this, please contact Research Data Services (RDS). Consultants from RDS can help you identify the best place to store large files and maintain link quality to the ELN.

Archiving and Backup Plan

Having a backup and archival plan for all your digital work, including your lab notebooks on the ELN platform, is always recommended. While the LabArchives service has a record of high availability, there are some scenarios in which you could lose access to your notebooks temporarily. Also, most researchers need to retain their notebooks for a number of years, so having a process for archiving notebooks that are completed is important. The strategies below will help you create a backup and archival plan that takes a number of scenarios into account:

  • Routinely place a secondary copy of all files you attach to the ELN in another location such as a department or campus server. You may find it helpful to use the same folder structure as in the ELN to avoid confusion.
  • Export (PDF) or create offline copies (HTML) of notebooks on a regular basis. For notebooks that are being actively edited, establish a schedule of exporting that will keep pace with your changes.
  • When lab members leave, they can take an HTML and PDF copy of the notebook with them. They can also be given view-only Guest access to the notebook for as long as the PI wishes. Since the PI must be the owner of all notebooks in their lab, notebooks cannot disappear when a member leaves!