LabRATS: Best Practices—Communications

 

Research Efficiency and Communications



Inform colleagues of conservation techniques

Problem: Many faculty, post docs, and grad students are not aware of their peers efforts and successes with conservation, such as buying and washing glassware to avoid using disposable plastic.

Solution: Discuss both your commitment and techniques in your group meetings and socially with people in your department. Sending out a note on departmental email gets 500 extra points!
Benefits: A spirit of camaraderie and momentum builds as people share their intentions and skills. Not only will you be surprised with encouragement, unexpected benefits come when colleagues offer new ideas that build momentum for conservation.
Cost: Free. Maintaining a positive, solution-based reputation is very important for credibility and buy-in.

Advocate to department and UCSB administration

Problem: Many conservation techniques have no guidelines or policies, so most people in a department may be unaware of opportunities or other researchers willingness to participate.

Solution: Request that your department develop sustainability guidelines optimized for your equipment, staff, and techniques. Nominate or request volunteers for a committee of interested faculty, students and staff. Check out the Ellison Hall Sustainability Committee and Bren Student Sustainability Committee for examples.

Benefit: Consistent conservation practices where easy opportunities are chosen automatically.

Cost: Quarterly meetings of 3-5 people can be over lunch or coffee. These groups can be both rewarding and fun. Emails can take a few minutes to remind people now and then.

Advocate for adequate maintenance staff to repair and service items in house

Problem: Staff on-campus in shops are diminishing and reducing the expertise needed to repair items such as ultra-cold freezers, centrifuges and scintillation counters and to fabricate Plexi-glass chambers.

Solution: Plan ahead and set aside adequate budget and billing practices to insure their job security.

Benefit: Quick repairs and advice on techniques and maintenance, storage help, avoiding costly service contracts that can be thousands of dollars each. Having the capacity to repair things encourages people to buy equipment that can be repaired.

Cost: Salaries are one of the highest expenses on campus, yet fabrications made in-house will match research needs quickly and precisely.

Pick up the phone instead of emailing

Problem: Emails lack dimensions of communication, take a long time and can be inefficient ways to communicate, especially under stress.

Solution: A phone call or personal visit can resolve miscommunications and clarify intent in seconds.

Benefit: Better relationships and less time at the keyboard.

Cost: None

Clarify management issues in your lab and get training

Problem: Scientists rarely get training in leadership or management especially in academia, yet we are faced with myriad personnel and budget issues.

Solution: Get some training or support at the UCSB human relations department, or seek laboratory management training, such as offered at UC Davis.

Benefit: Productivity and job satisfaction will likely increase. Performance goals will be more predictable and communications will occur regularly.

Cost: Anywhere from an hour, to a morning, to several days spread out over a year. Tuition varies.

Communicate with operations staff

Problem: Operations staff members have many opportunities to conserve materials and energy and they provide vital support to laboratories. When presented with recurring problems they may resort to expensive solutions without ideas and support from researchers. Also, researchers are often unaware of their efforts towards sustainability. Operations staff may already have great ideas or be implementing projects that you could help with.

Solution: Introduce yourself to operations staff and problem solve with them. Simple brainstorming can solve escalating problems by getting to the root of the difficulty, which researchers understand best. Simple repairs, or training and awareness of lab workers may suffice. Two examples come to mind: 1) a darkroom door only opened partially and forced a custodian into an awkward position where he scraped his head on a protruding tray. Problem solving with workman’s compensation supervisor pointed to trimming off the door rather than re-hanging it in a different direction. 2) Autoclaved wastes are limited to 20# per bag, yet with the start of classes it appeared that bags with a lot more liquid waste were accumulating, and occasionally puncturing and spraying the custodian. Rather than purchase an all-weather hydraulic lift for the trash can, an email to the department raised awareness about limiting autoclaved liquids in the trash.

Make suggestions and offer help to set up recycling stations or request Environmentally Preferred Products (EPP) when making purchases. Be sure to thank them for their efforts. Explain the benefits of your requests and the importance of conservation. Ask for their ideas.

Benefits: This will help establish regular conservation practices and open communication lines across academic and operations staff.

Costs: A little bit of your time and a few smiles.

Lab Manager in chance hallway meeting with custodial supervisor Byron Sandoval and workman’s compensation coordinator Jesus Rios. They discussed two custodial issues presented by researcher practices and maintenance needs.

Start a Conservation committee for your department or building

Problem: Some conservation practices go unfulfilled due to lack of consensus or without endorsement by more than one advocate.

Solution: An ad hoc or appointed group of students, staff and faculty can periodically address new ideas and develop consensus among many users, such as preferred lighting levels in hallways, installing timers on communal ovens, or pursuing energy efficient appliances.

Benefit: Credibility comes from more than one voice. Many energy efficient practices may be adopted saving hundreds of kWh per day. Departmental camaraderie can be enhanced with social events or humorous skits about resource conservation.

Cost: Any committee can sap time and energy if it is poorly run and does not have focused goals or esprit de corps.

Join a departmental network of laboratory contacts

Problem: There is not one person delegated to monitor conservation opportunities in each lab, and there is no one to contact for targeted equipment sharing information, for example. There is sometimes no one as the designated safety contact as well.

Solution: Each lab group can nominate a grad student, post doc or manager as the contact person. This person needs to be the member most interested in resource conservation and operational efficiency.

Benefit: Pursuit of Innovation as well as common best practices will yield the most sustainable practices possible. Having a central contact person enables effective sharing of information, equipment and chemicals.

Cost: This person may spend 2–4 hours per month learning about sustainability, communicating with peers or attending social events.

Find out if you think common use equipment may be turned off

Problem: Equipment in common use rooms may be left on 24 x 7 because no-one thinks to turn it off.

Solution: Ask other users, post a note, or send out an email to ask if it may be turned off at night, for instance. (See example questionnaire for oven use.)

Benefit: Energy savings and awareness. Equipment may last longer and need less maintenance.

Cost: Fifteen to thirty minutes time.

Take time to explain conservation techniques to colleagues from other countries or cultures

Problem: It may be difficult to bridge language or cultural barriers to explain conservation to people from other countries, so no measures are requested.

Solution: Take a little time to explain conservation and get some written material describing your intent. Most scientists can read English very well even if they can’t speak fluently.

Benefit: Energy savings and awareness can be universal and you may gain a strong friend.

Cost: A little awkwardness at first, and 15–20 minutes.

Make simple requests by email to your department

Problem: Many people are reluctant to seek free equipment or supplies on an occasional basis.

Solution: Use your list server frequently for reasonable requests. Specialized equipment is often available during slack periods, and small quantities of reagents or disposable items are often available. Remember that many scientists often squirrel away exotic equipment for a rainy day.

Benefit: Your research group may save hundreds to thousands of dollars if you don’t have to purchase new instrumentation. The wastes associated with this purchase can be tons of CO2 and many other associated effluents.

Cost: None unless requests are excessive. Avoid departmental spam. (Example emails: link)

Support a departmental list server that offers good communication across departments

Problem: Email inboxes can get cluttered and some people may resent messages not central to their work.

Solution: Get departmental approval of conservation-related messages and keep them short, rare and to the point. Keep other department members informed of your publicity methods.

Benefit: Good buy-in of practices; feedback and knowledge where to get information.

Cost: A few phone calls and 20 minutes of your time.

Develop cordial relationships with custodians, ventilation and electrical maintenance staff

Problem: Many support staff feel disconnected from research staff and they cannot help each other with conserving resources.

Solution: Introduce yourself to staff and develop cordial relationships.

Benefit: They will help you out when needed, and you can both conserve energy, solid waste, and time.

Cost: A few minutes per week.

Take lots of pictures

Problem: Many researchers don’t understand conservation opportunities or problems around them until they see them.

Solution: Carry a digital camera with you and record best practices and missed opportunities.

Benefit: You will surprise yourself with the examples you find, it will inspire your colleagues, and it can be fun to assemble a portfolio of conservation examples.

Cost: Fifteen to thirty minutes time during lunch hours now and then.

Join the Laboratory Research And Technical Staff (LabRATS) network and participate in information or equipment exchange through the listserve

Problem: There is no network to connect with other lab staff about efficiency or conservation.

Solution: Join LabRATS_UCSB.

Benefit: You may find helpful advice, equipment or services through this network.

Cost: None

Keep an open ear for colleagues’ personal needs. “Take care of your people

Problem: Some people face chronic illness, family tragedies, financial difficulties or relationship issues, yet feel they cannot share any of this at work, and they feel isolated, afraid or angry. This lowers their job satisfaction and often their productivity.

Solution: Pay attention to your colleagues’ moods, support them when they are up or down, and check in now and then. A short, caring conversation can provide neutral listening or valuable perspective. Sometimes you may solve something as simple as a computer network problem or an email scam.

Benefit: Your caring will help others deal with their challenges and know they have allies at work. Their workplace satisfaction and dedication will rise.

Cost: A cup of coffee or an occasional 15-30 minutes of listening and feedback. Maintain professional boundaries as appropriate.


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