Sunday, May 04, 2008

Research On The Cheap 3: Playing Nice With Others

How To Run A Lab (As) Cheaply (As Possible)

I encourage commentary; additional suggestions will be appended.

Part 1: Recycling and Repair
Part 2: DIY Lab Supplies

6. Shop around and negotiate.
  • A lot of things can be bought elsewhere for less, and this place sells the weirdest stuff.
  • Used equipment! (See here, e.g.) Really old things, especially, are worth it: they are unlikely to a) have circuit boards or b) break irreparably.
  • Common household things- like tupperware containers- are useful. See also: Hardware stores.
  • Ask for a samples, demos, and trials on equipment/ materials.
  • Big companies (Sigma, IDT) will cut rates up to 25%. Negotiate long-term written agreements on consumables and services if possible, including sequencing/ analytical chemistry/ computer time. There is a lot of competition. If your college has any kind of support staff, try to negotiate for the college, and publicize: the more people will use it, the better deal you'll get. (Our stockroom gets 20% off, for example, and Dr. S's old lab negotiated a 3-for-price-of-2 deal with Qiagen. Of all places.)
  • Ask for an academic price on equipment. Get two quotes and play them off each other; Sigma won't starve if you pay $500 less, and salespeople usually work on commission.
  • Think hard about service contracts and how much the thingum breaks. Often, not worth it. (Except for: see #9.)
7. Share.
  • Some places are set up so that large equipment can be used in common: centrifuges, -80 freezers, autoclaves, etc. Ask if anyone else has one, and offer to pay part of the service contract.
  • There are grants for large equipment if it'll be used in common. (Though often not for maintenance.)
  • Collaborate with someone who'll do your expensive experiment for an authorship!
8. No, really, avoid equipment with electronic parts. My lab has a Beckman ultra, bought seven years ago. It breaks every 3 months. Dr. S's lab has the very same ultra, bought 35 years ago. It has never broken. Old equipment that's still running.... works better. Beckman's parts used to be made by GE. Now they're made in China.

9. Know when it's dead.
That centrifuge tube with a hairline crack? Toss it, it's dead. Don't push your equipment beyond its tolerances or you'll spend a lot of time fixing it.

10. Think twice and order once. I can't tell you how many wrong primers I've ordered, and I have a whole drawer of prematurely ordered things I can't use. It doesn't matter to my lab, but very important for the limited budget!

11. Try not to be depressed by how much everything costs. Yes, we're being ripped off. Oh well.