Scientific techniques inevitably evolve due to new discoveries, resulting in the birth of advanced reagents and instruments. Take western blotting, for example. Monumental steps have transformed this workflow from a manual teeth-pulling experience to a more automated approach that takes a fraction of the time. Instead of pouring your own gels, blotting to a membrane, then doing washes and antibody application yourself, instruments can now automate your process and reduce the time to a few hours.
But taking the leap to adjust methods can be intimidating. When you’re used to always using the same seemingly reliable items that yield reproducible results, why change? And the samples you work with are considered precious, so testing them with new reagents can be a gamble. Furthermore, it takes a lot of activation energy to order a new kit and make time to sample it and determine effectiveness.
Here are some guidelines to help you feel more secure with the decision to adopt a new product or update your method.
- Analyze time, reproducibility, and cost savings. Consider what’s most important to you. A product may cost slightly more, but if the new protocol will create hours of time savings per week, that will translate to downstream savings.
- Talk to your neighbors. Personal recommendations from nearby labs along with details of their experience will reduce your evaluation effort.
- What papers have already been published using the product? Does that lab have the same research focus as you, and similar applications?
- Analyze your bread-and-butter products that are constantly used. If these were swapped for an equivalent from a different provider (gels, for instance), what would your overall savings be?
- Obtain available literature for the product of interest, and review all the specs. I observed a situation where a lab purchased a cell counter believing it was capable of detecting all cell sizes, only to be very disappointed to learn their samples were too small. Better pre-purchase communication and education would have prevented this.
- Check your calendar. Do you have a paper due, or a deadline to meet? Conduct sampling during a slower time so it doesn’t get pushed to the back burner.
- Ask your rep for discounts or free samples. If a vendor has released a new product, they are likely doing a huge push to market. Take advantage of this timing and extra support from your rep to maximize savings and minimize risk.
- Be deliberate with your approach. Set a test date and request a sample. With no commitment, the task is less likely to get done.
- Test alongside your original method. With a side-by-side comparison, you’ll see in real time how effective the alternative is. Protein transfers are a great example: Put your hard-to-detect proteins through the test first.
- Collect all available data so your decision is unbiased. My Quartzy colleague, Melissa, told me about a time her lab was convinced a new instrument would lyse cells better than their original method. But the lab realized after the fact that they didn’t have data to compare the lysing ability. They later learned that the new instrument was actually less effective.
- Allow for a trial-and-error period, with multiple people using the new product. Kits, especially, can require a learning curve to change the method. It may take more than one try to master a new approach, so be patient with yourself—and your lab mates.
- Turn to your peers. If your PI has experience with a different product, allow them to coach you.
While it can be daunting, adopting a new technique or product can save you hours of tedious work. By using all the resources available to you, including your vendor rep and neighboring labs, you can fully equip yourself to make a confident decision. And that decision may just lead to a new discovery.
Quartzy is the world’s No. 1 lab management platform. We help scientists easily organize orders, manage inventory, and save money. We’re free and always will be. Visit Quartzy.com or reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interested in writing for The Q? Send us an email!
Bearded dragon enthusiast and freeway speed demon, Ashley has a BS in Biology and is your vivacious advocate for discovery!