Life in the lab has changed significantly in the past decade. While this statement might seem obvious on the surface — people come and go, techniques advance, principal investigators (PI) retire — the change I'm thinking about has more to do with the way research is conducted in the lab today, not simple cosmetic alterations. At the moment, “big science” projects involving multiple collaborations and different disciplines are more commonplace than ever before, necessitating greater levels of interaction among scientists and larger levels of funding. So, what do these changes mean for the graduate students toiling away right now to learn their future trade? What about those intrepid young researchers finishing their training and establishing their first labs at this moment? In the current issue of BioTechniques, we present a special focus section called “The Modern Lab” featuring a series of articles commissioned by the editors that we hope will provide readers new insight into in the various way labs operate in 2012, as well as how science has changed in recent years and will continue to evolve in the years to comes.
Establishing a lab in 2012 requires a PI to make shrewd decisions and even better financial calculations when it comes to budget concerns. But there is also the need for a fair amount of luck as we find out in our first special news feature, titled “Run your lab on dollars a day!” BioTechniques contributing writer Jeffrey Perkel explores the ups and downs of several researchers as they struggle to start their first labs, providing a unique perspective on everything from day-to-day lab costs to the difficult choices involved in initially hiring personnel. Perkel also examines the rationale behind start-up packages given to young faculty, and how that money (no matter how much) can often mean making hard choices about what to purchase for which experiments; a mini-business lesson that everyone in graduate school should take to heart.
While the modern lab is clearly a unique environment, much can still be learned from those who have already gone through the journey of establishing a research lab. In the second article of our special section, titled “Reflections on the Modern Lab,” I speak with several well-established PIs to get their takes on running a lab in 2012, and what has changed when it comes to life in the lab over the past decade. From incredibly large labs with upward of 100 people to smaller labs with only a few students, the insights provided by these experienced lab heads should serve as inspiration and instruction to those looking to have their own lab one day.
Finally, the research articles in this issue of BioTechniques have been specially selected around the theme of “Life in the Modern Lab.” While sophisticated technologies have changed how researchers work at the bench, there is still a need for methods that expand upon established approaches to further enable and speed up experiments. This is where a journal like BioTechniques enters the picture. Blending methods advances from different disciplines, our goal with this issue was to bring you those techniques and methods that will have an immediate impact: a new variation on the traditional Lowry assay for protein quantification that is insensitive to sample color, a novel method for construction of site-directed saturation mutagenesis libraries, and the first description of a bicistronic IRES vector for co-expression of two genes in Caenorhabditis elegans.
We hope our special section on the modern lab, along with this entire issue of BioTechniques, provides you insights that advance your career as well as your experiments at the bench. As always, please share your thoughts with us by posting at our Molecular Biology Forums under “To the Editor” (http://molecularbiology.forums.biotechniques.com) or sending an email directly to the editors ([email protected]).