Dr. Michael Blaber
Labeling of Samples
Keeping a Lab Notebook
Recently, I have been going through the -80°C freezer attempting to consolidate and organize samples from prior students in the lab. This has proven to be an extremely time consuming and frustrating exercise. I have come to the conclusion that I have done a poor job of explaining the correct method of labeling samples, and related to this, the proper way to keep a lab notebook.
The reagents (proteins, plasmids, oligonucleotides, antibodies, etc.) that are produced in our laboratory represent a substantial investment of both time and money. Furthermore, these reagents are a valuable resource, and can assist in speeding up your research projects, and in many cases can save you from having to re-construct, re-express or re-purify various mutants, etc. However, the time and money invested in such reagents, and their ability to help you in your research, are lost if accurate records are not kept.
In going through the samples in the -80°C freezer, the majority are inadequately labeled such that it is impossible to know exactly what the sample is, who prepared it, how it was produced, what buffer it is in, what concentration it is, or how old it is. Thus, as reagents, such samples are essentially useless.
The correct labeling of samples must have the following information:
Here is an appropriate label:
MB3-85 FGF L44F/ADA 1.12mg/ml
In several cases, the samples in the -80°C had ambiguous descriptions (i.e. no buffer listing, no concentration, uncertainty if a kallikrein was active or pro-form, uncertainty if an FGF mutant had a his-tag or not, etc.), and I attempted to go to the student's notebook to clarify these questions. Unfortunately, in many cases the lab notebooks were not helpful in answering these questions.
Here is the format for lab notebooks:
Once I finish with the former student's -80°C samples, I will be asking each of you to work with me to inventory your samples in the -80°C. In this way, the lab will have a useful and accurate inventory of all reagents produced, as well as their location.
The importance of keeping a detailed notebook, and accurately labeling samples, cannot be over-emphasized. It is a professional skill that employers will expect you to be familiar with.
The following page is an entry from my lab notebook as a graduate student (1988). It contains the key items your lab notebook entries should have (date, purpose and sufficient detail to replicate the experiment). Finally, notebook entries should be made in ink.