How to Successfully Manage a Research Lab

A lot goes on in a research lab every day. With the flurry of activity keeping lab staff consistently busy, maintaining order can be a big job.

To do this, you must master some basic lab management tips. Once you learn these basics, the rest will come easily with time and practice.

In this article, we will talk about some of the keys to successfully running a research lab. We will focus on tips for safety, organization, and much more.

Management Basics

There is no concrete formula for effective lab management. How you manage yours exactly will depend upon several factors: the general culture of your lab, the personalities of the people working there, and the work styles of your fellow employees.

However, some general lab management tips apply to just about any type of lab. Read on to learn more.

1. Work Toward a Goal

Managers at every level of experience know how draining the minutiae of daily lab management can be. Ensuring all paperwork is completed, all safety standards are met, all cleaning is done, and all projects are completed on time can be overwhelming and make you lose sight of the bigger picture.

One of the best ways to help yourself stay on track, motivated, and focused is to set goals. By working with coworkers to set goals in line with the work done at a lab, lab managers can keep the entire facility focused and on track.

Goal setting can also help staff identify what experiments need to be focused on, where extra time should be spent, and reduce the strain of work-related stress. Consider devising a 5-year plan to help you and your staff stay productive and positive.

2. Establish a Culture

Beyond keeping track of your research and making sure standards are met, managers are also responsible for creating a comfortable and productive work culture. Establishing a positive and productive work culture requires daily attention and cultivation, but the rewards are tremendous.

To accomplish a welcoming work culture, you must first lay the groundwork. As mentioned, a common goal can help your team rally together.

First, create a set of values you expect your staff to follow. For many managers, these values include basic work expectations like proper safety standard observation and timely arrivals.

Whatever is needed for your lab to run smoothly should be communicated as a value. Hire, fire, and reward based on these values, and you are sure to have the team of your dreams.

3. Communicate

It may go without saying, but the need for communication between manager and employee is vital to every workplace, and especially in a lab environment. Every single person in your lab will have come from a different background, be it personal or academic, and thus will vary wildly in approach to work, play, and beyond.

Because of the incredible diversity found in every lab environment, managers should expect to polish up on and use their people skills every day. Workout workplace conflicts, making sure everyone feels they are succeeding and having their needs met.

Most important, allow everyone to have a say in how the lab is run; every voice is important.


Research labs are jam-packed with equipment. As such, just a few days of neglected cleanup can become messy quickly.

With most employees busy with projects and an often unclear cleaning and organizational method, many lab managers find themselves drowning in disorganization. Here are a few tips for keeping your lab organized!

1. Organized Lab Benches

While the way a lab bench organization may vary, helping your staff with some general organizational tips can benefit everyone.

  • Keep lower bench surfaces clear for testing and experiments
  • Store lesser used items on higher shelves
  • Label personal belongings and tools to avoid mix ups and losses
  • Keep paperwork, books, damageable items, and consumables off of workbenches to prevent damage or contamination

2. Inventory

Even though most lab employees have little or nothing to do with actual inventory ordering and maintenance, the job of keeping stock rooms organized to avoid excess spending should be everyone’s responsibility. Have some staff members volunteers to stock shelves and ensure new orders are put in the correct place.

Have all members of staff note when items are running low. By making your entire staff aware of inventory and how stock should be handled, you can help your company save money and be more organized at the same time.

3. End of Day Procedure

When work is done for the day, everyone wants to get going, but that doesn’t mean things can simply be left to be done tomorrow. If every day ends with things left untidied or unorganized, the mountain of work will only continue to grow.

Establishing an end of day procedure and expressing what members of staff are expected to do before clocking out can help keep up the overall condition of your lab. By simply implementing very basic closing procedures, like clearing away desks, equipment, and other unnecessary items your lab will stay cleaner for longer.


To maintain safety in the lab, you must ensure that all experiments are conducted according to strict safety standards. While many safety standards may seem like common sense, the stress of handling all the details of a lab can put even simple safety to the wayside.

These are some of the ways managers can help keep their lab operating smoothly and safely.

1. Equipment

Even highly educated people sometimes disregard basic safety from time to time. For example, researchers might neglect to put on protective eyewear or gloves while handling chemicals.

They might even substitute essential equipment for similar equipment out of convenience. By rewarding proper safety equipment usage and discouraging unsafe practices, you can help remind your entire staff to comply with safety standards.

Once this standard has been expressed and enforced for a few weeks, your staff will begin to practice good safety out of habit.

2. Injury

Eyewash and safety showers are essential for any lab. Any unwanted contact with certain chemicals should be addressed within 15 minutes of initial contact. In such situations, you need to act fast, which is why you should make sure your showers are always in working order.

3. Glass

Most laboratories have a large stock of glass equipment and instruments. Though designed for continual use, this equipment can break just like all other glass.

If a piece looks to be damaged or have a crack, it should be disposed of immediately. Here again, proper safety equipment is important.

Beyond lab coats and glasses, all employees should wear sturdy shoes and protective clothing to prevent contact with chemicals and broken glass. A shard can easily go missing on the floor, so protective footwear should always be worn to avoid injury.

4. Evacuation Procedures

Research lab managers should be familiar with, and familiarize their staff, with all evacuation procedures. Fires that occur in research labs can be particularly harmful, as the presence of flammable and toxic chemicals can make these fires all the more volatile.

If a fire alarm or evacuation is ordered, all staff should be aware of how to handle the situation:

  • Turn off all water and gas running to your workbench; cutting off water and gas will help prevent further damage to the space, particularly in the event that fire should reach workbench gas lines
  • Collect personal items, but only those closest to you. To prevent chaos or disorder during an evacuation, it is important to ask your staff not to attempt to find personal items that are not directly in their vicinity
  • Use the stairs; make sure all staff know where the stairs are. Work with your staff to create a plan for calm evacuation via the stairs in the event of a fire

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