Something I learned early on in my career was in order to create a lasting and important impact, you need to validate it. Whatever it may be in your life— personal with family or friends or in your profession with your work— if it is really important to you, test it, try it and make it happen. For me, this is an idea I carry with me every day that I am in the lab because my mission is to impact science and research for the better of society, for people, for you and for me. And so, I approach each challenge, each issue with tenacity and optimism. To quote William Hickson, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.”
In his annual letter for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates emphasized the importance of measurement and monitoring. He said, “Given a goal, you decide on what key variable you need to change to achieve it. [You use the measurement as feedback to make adjustments.] He went on to say that he believes a lot of efforts fail “because they don't focus on the right measure or they don't invest enough in doing it accurately.”
Measurement and monitoring are concepts that occur, either subconsciously or deliberate, in almost every workplace, school or home.
As we conduct our daily lives, we continuously measure outcomes and monitor consequences; we look for balance and make necessary adjustments; we test theories and ourselves and exact change according to desired outcomes. In the work that we do, in the lab— as researchers and scientists, innovators and game-changers— at the core of our efforts are measurement and monitoring. Everything that happens centers around these two critical processes. And, each is dependent upon one another.
In the lab, there are a lot of variables: samples, temperature, humidity, human interaction. Because of this, each step must be carefully measured and data collection has to be precise and consistent in order to do a meaningful and thorough analysis. That’s where the fun stuff begins, taking that data, investigating and theorizing, identifying exceptions and trends, and recognizing and anticipating the exceptions.
But, to say measure and monitor sounds boring, right?
It may be thought of as laborious or time-consuming. And, who has the time these days? Technology has made it so things occur at rapid speed- conversations, decisions and opinions. It all happen instantly without much human involvement. In our field, the technology has made our processes more exact, complete and efficient. Technology, in fact, has eliminated the element of haste in the lab; it has almost eradicated human error in calculations; and any missteps that occur in monitoring are nearly gone. It has improved our abilities to provide more accurate and advanced measurement; it has given us better validity and reliability. And, it has restored integrity in lab reporting and monitoring.
Who needs a clipboard anymore?
Those days of lugging around a bulging binder filled with endless pages of scheduled logs are obsolete. So are the flaws that inherently went along with it. And never mind the fact that an actual person, a real live person, would have to sit in the lab at all times, capturing every moment, every deviation in temperature, every rise or fall in humidity, all the while trying to stay engaged in the other processes of the lab.
What makes scientists lose sleep are problems- problems with samples, problems with lab equipment, human error, problems with air quality or temperature. These potential problems or missteps required human intervention, a constant watchdog to catch it in the act.
With technology, we can be more proactive and reactive than ever. Today’s lab has the instruments to capture this all, whenever you want, whether you are physically in the lab, at a meeting down the hall or in a completely different hemisphere. Efficiency and effectiveness are not sacrificed; they are omnipresent in today’s lab because of the advances we have made in technology.
Advances in monitoring devices, like TraceableLIVE® have made it so a problem or deviation is detected before it becomes an issue. Faster than if a lab technician was physically in the environment, effective wireless monitoring alerts research and scientists to an issue, allows for immediate modification and intervention, whether you are present or not. With low energy and cost effective wireless communication using efficient cloud-based platforms for collecting data and giving access to that data, immediate feedback is accessible to everyone, any time, anywhere.
Change is hard in any environment and like many industries, we, too, have to answer to regulatory and accrediting agencies. And, monitoring critical lab processes gets people to sit up straight and listen, as they should. The great news is that these agencies have started to accept the new technology and recognize the value it brings to monitoring and data collection. In many cases, agencies are requiring that automated monitoring tools be used in every day lab processes, where manual checks and inspections have been required historically, and in some cases, even where they have been overlooked in the past. This is great news for the industry.
By using accurate and reliable technology to record important data and maintain the lab climate, researchers and scientists are then able to dedicate the necessary resources and attention needed elsewhere in the lab: mentoring research assistants and new scientists; or brainstorming ideas and testing theories. The right technology essentially supports the other necessary functions of the lab, a secondary function, albeit, but a very critical one. These tools that are now available are often cost effective, simple to learn and use, and in many cases, can reduce non-value added workload in your lab, allowing your team to do their work which is to make our world a healthier and safer place.
So, where do we go from here?
Well, it is my hope that just as others before us have tested and tried, triumphed and failed, we, too, will continue our work in our labs across the globe, advancing the lives of everyone, teaching the next generation of researchers and scientists and always questioning. How can we improve upon the previous advancement? Where we can advance today’s technologies for tomorrow’s lab purposes? How can we can evolve current processes, whether it be in our monitoring systems or our methods for measuring? With change comes knowledge. And knowledge is power.