Saturday, August 17, 2013

Why we like Quartzy for ordering, inventory and reagent organization

Starting a lab means that you get to establish culture and workflow, which I have previously discussed here, and one of the main problems I have encountered in the past is the lack of a proper inventory and common reagents constantly running out stopping experiments dead in their tracks. If you are in a large lab, you can obviate to this problem by having your own private stock of everything that is vital to your research, but I am starting a new lab which is small, and I want sharing and good labmanship to be a strong feature of my group.

I was on LabLife for a few years and I was never really into it because nobody else in the lab used it, and now that it has transitioned from a free version to the paid version, LabGuru, paying for it is out of the question. It costs $10/month per person and I am not willing to pay the much for every postdoc, student and undergrad to have access to inventory.

We have a Dropbox folder where I keep all the protocols and we share data, and I'm looking into getting server space for more data storage. But now that we ORDER A LOT to get the lab set-up, I also need a place where every order, quote and part number is recorded and where we can write down where everything is. My postdoc lab has recently established a Google spreadsheet for orders with a template that everyone can access to enter what they need. Everyone can then go check when the order has been placed and whether it has been delivered. This is easy and free, but again it's a one trick pony.

So, after seeing all the little fliers for Quartzy, we decided to give it a try and absolutely love it!!
Starting with the Orders tab anyone in the lab can put in an order and when the system is integrated with a particular vendor's catalog the order is auto-populated with all kinds of useful information. Then the order is submitted to the approver (i.e. me or a lab manager) who orders stuff and marks it as Ordered. I think in some institutions you can order directly via Quartzy, we are not allowed to do that and mostly have to use iBuy. When stuff comes whoever unpacks it marks it Delivered and has the option to indicate where the items are now located AND automatically everything that was delivered ends up in Inventory. Yay! Handy searches and item categories (Equipment, Antibody, etc) make finding stuff in the inventory very easy and the view for each category is fully customizable so that the most important info is easily available, like serial number for equipment vs epitope for antibodies. There is a tab for Protocols and one for Facilities and while I don't use the Protocols because ours are in the Dropbox, I already set up the sign-up sheets for our large equipment and I'm excited to use the scheduling function.

While entering everything at the beginning is very time consuming, I'm hoping this will pay back in the future. We recorded all the special prices and quotes we received as a new lab and if something is running low the person noticing this will just have to click Reorder. If someone is wondering where stuff is, they just have to look it up in the Inventory. In addition, if you have many freezer boxes of samples and reagents and you record the exact location of every tube, you can generate a box map and a list, which saved us from having to get FileMaker or equivalent database software.

Finally, the customer service is absolutely wonderful. The chat box on the right allows you to IM a customer service rep on the spot. I had an issue with the ordering layout because there was no easy way to keep track of the ordered and delivered dates. While the rep could not help me right then and there, she told me they were working on it and two days later the layout changed to give you a much better overview of what is going on. I'm really excited to see how Quartzy changes in the future and I would urge everyone who uses the site to give lots of feedback so that it can become even more user friendly. Now, I just hope they don't go the LabLife way and charge an arm and a leg for it.....

Friday, August 2, 2013

NIH to implement Individual Development Plan (IDP) requirement

Just got a note from the NIH Office for Extramural research that the NIH released a notice (NOT-OD-13-093) promoting the implementation of Individual Development Plans (IDPs) for all grad students and postdoc on any type of NIH funding. Each institution will have to devise their own strategy to develop and monitor IDPs and they must also be introduced in the Progress Report.

There is constant talk of IDPs at career development workshops and Science Careers developed a website last year where you can develop your own (, which I discussed in detail in a previous blog post. Briefly, an IDP is an actionable plan which can have short and long term goals for career advancement and professional improvement. Bottom line, I think this is a great idea, because it would promote more accountability in mentoring, as mentors must be involved in monitoring the IDP of people on their grants, but the decision on what templates to use and what kind of reporting to do will make all the difference. IDP structure vary widely and the fact that institutions are left to their own devices in deciding which IDP to use may mean a completely different approach in different research centers. Some universities already have IDP templates and others don't even know what an IDP is. The Science Careers site is a good introduction and it is more detailed than many university templates (here and here), but the workflow for developing goals is a little clumsy and it should be better if this wants to become a major point of reference for IDP development.

While a lot of "mentoring" done for NIH grants ends up remaining only on paper, I have experienced on my own skin how establishing mentoring teams and mentoring plans will eventually get you a good portion of the mentoring you need. Even if you get one tenth of the mentoring described in your mentoring plan, you are already way ahead of the curve and more official emphasis on reporting mentoring will definitely improve the odds. I assume that now that my K99 award has transitioned to the independent phase, the R00, I will have to use an IDP for students that may end up as personnel on the grant.