Reproducibility is a cornerstone of scientific research and your results need to be reproducible not only by yourself but also by others, both in and outside of your laboratory. This reproducibility is key for validation of your results as well as to further expand on the knowledge gained during the experiment. In order to accurately reproduce an experiment, it is important to begin with the same lab protocol, particularly for replicating the experiment yourself or within your lab. By sharing your lab protocols, your lab and others can begin to expand upon your experiment and advance the field of science. Here we talk about why you should share your lab protocols and the best ways to do it.
Why Should You Share Your Lab Protocol?
We all know that it takes times and effort to optimize a lab protocol, so it is tempting to hide them away from others, after all why should someone else benefit from your hard work? Well, before you lock your precious protocols away, we’ve got some advantages to you from sharing your lab protocols.
It Helps Others to Expand on the Knowledge You Have Gained
Science and medicine are advanced by taking the current knowledge in the field and building upon it. If we all started from scratch every time we began an experiment, it would take centuries just to run a Western blot. Furthermore, the best science is achieved through collaboration. Particularly, because everyone comes to the bench with a slightly different background, and the gathering of different minds and backgrounds progresses the science further than one scientist working alone.
It Might Help You to Gain Some Insightful Feedback from a Colleague
If someone asks you for your protocol for a particular experiment, you can always ask for their current protocol in return, to see if you can learn anything from their protocol. Also, even if the person asking for your protocol does not have their own protocol yet, after performing the experiment following your protocol, they might have some useful suggestions for improvement.
It helps you build your network and form collaborations
Sharing your lab protocols also helps bring awareness to your scientific research, as most other scientists who ask for your lab protocol will cite your work in their publications. Bringing awareness to your work, helps you build your network, foster collaborations, advance your field, and might possibly help you gain future funding. Additionally, if another group uses your protocol and verifies your findings, then it confirms your results. This is much better then when a group tries to replicate your experiment and cannot replicate your results, which then leaves doubt in some minds about the validity of your work.
When You Should Not Share Your Lab Protocols
Now that we have convinced you that you should share your lab protocols, we should warn that there are times that protocols should not be shared.
First, consider if the protocol is actually yours to share. If you obtained the protocol from a colleague, it is professional to ask that person if you may share the protocol, even before putting the protocol into a shared lab folder of protocols. The person might have reasons for not widely sharing, such as intellectual property conflicts.
The protocol may also have come from a website or textbook, in which case there might copyright issues. In this case, you can always share the website address or citation with the person, instead of sharing your lab protocol.
Best Ways for Sharing Your Lab Protocols
Create a Lab Binder of Protocols
In your lab, consider creating a 3-ring binder of lab protocols that everyone may use. This helps to standardize procedures across all lab members, and helps so that you do not try to ‘reinvent the wheel’ in the case that someone else in your lab has already optimised that exact method. You can also create an electronic repository of protocols for your lab, and give all lab members access to it. Having protocols typed out is really convenient because: it helps you plan out your experiment ahead of time; it helps as far as legibility for yourself and others; it makes emphasizing things easier – different text colours, fonts, bolding, and underlining; it saves you time for future experiments – just print, date, and make notes as you go; it helps for sharing protocols.
Share a Hard Copy of Your Protocol in Person
A great way for sharing your lab protocols is in person. Remember, it is best to always check with your PI before sharing a lab protocol outside of your lab. Giving someone a printed copy and walking them through the protocol allows them to ask you questions and helps to determine if your protocol is clear enough for someone else to follow. Consider inviting the person to your lab for them to view you performing your protocol. This will allow them to ask questions and learn first-hand. You also could watch them perform the experiment for the first time, which is particularly helpful for new students.
Share via Email
Sharing your lab protocols can also be done electronically, but keep in mind that it is important how you do this. One way to share lab protocols electronically is to simply email the protocol as an attachment. This is good in situations where you only want to share a single protocol with someone and do not need or want them to see any future amendments you make.
Storing and Sharing on the Cloud
One Drive and Google Docs are very convenient for sharing files. They allow you to select who can view the document (only those with the link may view it, or only certain people via their email address). These cloud spaces also make it convenient for different levels of access for editing the document – you can grant some people access to view only, while others may comment but not edit, and finally others you can allow to edit the protocol.
Sharing via an Electronic Lab Notebook
If you are just now considering using an electronic lab notebook, you might want to check out Nature, LabGuru, Labfolder, or SciNote. Be careful giving someone access to your electronic lab notebook, as any updates, notes, or data attached to your protocol might be shared as well. When you make updated notes on the protocol, you probably want to consider which notes to share, because there is a difference between sharing your lab protocols and simply giving all of your work away to advance someone else’s lab.
If you want to share your protocol widely, you can consider publishing your protocol through JoVE. Alternatively, you can share your protocol through an online protocol repository, such as Protocol-Online, ScienceExchange, Protocols.IO, Nature ProtocolExchange, or consider sharing your lab protocols on your lab’s website. These different online sites have their advantages depending upon desired features:
JoVE is great for displaying things that are difficult to put into words or single images; consider, if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth a thousand pictures. Your JoVE protocols are also citable.
Nature Protocol Exchange
You can store protocols privately on Nature ProtocolExchange, however you can also publish a protocol on this site which then allows your protocol to be cited by others, because it has a given DOI. Nature ProtocolExchange also allows comments to be added to protocols, and allows users to bookmark their favourite protocols.
Having your protocols right on your lab’s website (see the Weissman lab website for an example) might mean that your lab website gets more online ‘foot traffic’, since the keyword search for your protocol brings people right to your website, as opposed to one of the protocol sharing websites above. You also have more control over how things are organized and displayed.
Protocol-Online allows you to share your protocols as well as share website links for your protocols.
Protocols.IO and its accompanying app (ZappyLabs Bench Tools) allows users to electronically check off steps of protocols, and add comments to the protocols.
ScienceExchange also allows for private storage of protocols and public sharing of protocols, for easy tracking of different versions of protocols (monitoring changes/updates), and for bookmarking favourite protocols.
How do you share your lab protocols? Comment below!
If you need tips on writing an effective protocol, check out our previous article on How to Write an Effective Lab Protocol.