6 Ways To Keep Graduating Students’ Knowledge in Your Lab

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It’s that time of the academic year: students are graduating and moving on, some after years of time in your laboratory. And in most cases, you’ll be saying goodbye to a now-experienced researcher, too — one who holds all sorts of key protocols and other data in their head.

Turnover in the workplace is tough in any industry. And it’s especially tough to say goodbye to a great student and researcher. However, it might be even tougher on your lab’s operations and future success if there is no knowledge transfer.

Dr. Lyndsay Troyer

Retain Key Lab Knowledge

Perhaps you have a student leaving soon; maybe you have a year more to wait. In either case, better safe than sorry. So, to avoid losing productive time and hard-earned protocols, take some steps to ensure continuity of methodologies and data. With that, here are six suggestions for preserving your students’ hard won know-how:

  1. Review student lab notebooks. Before the students leave, take the time to review their notebooks, closely, for pertinent information — experimental tips and critical details. Be thorough: Make sure you understand how they carried out their experiments from start to finish. Naturally, this will be easier if they already have their notes in an e-notebook or shared document.
  2. Create a shared drive. This is easy to do in Google Drive, OneDrive, or in your platform of choice. After doing so, request your student upload all pertinent documents into it. Going forward, instruct all your lab members to organize their data and archive them here regularly.
  3. Organize peer-to-peer training. If possible in the time remaining, get your departing student to hold face-to-face training sessions with the relevant remaining lab members. This is crucial to maintain continuity with those students who will be using the departing student’s methods or proceeding with their experiments. Keep the training going until your lab can replicate all the pertinent methods.
  4. Document the protocols. If your departing student is the expert in a technique, get it documented immediately. If the protocol isn’t slated for immediate execution, then ensure the expert writes it out before moving on.  
  5. Start planning before the student’s defense. The last year of a working student Ph.D. can be hectic and a departure might come up on you quickly. Have students record refined protocols as they are developed — instead of after their defenses.  
  6. Standardize your protocols. Even before your grad students leave, you should take an inventory of all your protocols and make sure they are standardized. Then document them. If you haven’t standardized, then establish consistent protocols in your lab so you aren’t second guessing how students performed standard techniques. This will make life easier when you’re writing up methods or having the next student replicate an experiment.

This is a start. Hopefully, you can make your student’s transition out of your lab as seamless as possible, so you can both focus on celebrating their graduation and the next steps in their career.

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