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What to keep in mind when Setting up a Research Lab

So you’ve been funded for a lab – congratulations! The hard part is over. Now, you get to live out your interior decoration and equipment fantasies in your very own lab – you get to tailor your workspace to your exact specification. Or can you? In this article, we outline some things to consider if you are setting up your own lab.

Kick-starting the lab

Setting up a lab starts with where you are coming from and why and how you are setting it up. Perhaps you were just awarded a generous fellowship that comes with a lab or you are a lab technician in charge of moving your principal investigator’s lab to another institution. Depending on which it is, the very first thing to consider will be budget and the creeping realisation that it can feel like it’s never enough.

Developing – and sticking – to the budget

In your proposal for the lab, you should start by costing for essentials. Once you have those locked in, think about what other facilities and equipment you need, and build your budget from there.

In a lab that relies heavily on equipment, a crucial piece of advice is to resist ‘upgradeitis’ – the thought that ‘it’s only a little bit extra for this extra feature’, or ‘it’s just a tiny bit more cost’ for some bells and whistles. Before you know it, you’ll have sunk an extra 20% of your budget into one fancy piece of equipment, while you have yet to kit out the rest of your lab.

Getting to know your new lab neighbours

This is very important because academia is intended to be a collaborative endeavour, so a great place to start is with your immediate vicinity. Perhaps a neighbouring lab has equipment you don’t have, or a direct line to building maintenance, or they know their way around centralised facilities. These relationships can help you hit the ground running when starting in a new place, so don’t be afraid to reach out and make those connections! 

Futureproofing your lab

A lab is not a six-month project. You’re likely to be there for several years, so make sure you plan accordingly. Make sure you know what your priorities are:

Do you rely heavily on equipment and therefore will need plenty of bench space?

Alternatively, do you plan to expand your team?

In either case, it helps to have an initial roadmap in mind for what you plan to do with the additional funds when you receive more grants, have specific funding milestones in mind for new hires or purchases, and accommodate for ongoing and expansion expenses as early as possible.

Implementing best practices

Related to futureproofing, implementing best lab practices early on is going to significantly help you down the line. These may include:

  • In-depth inventory management
  • Lab induction booklets
  • Cleaning rotas

But more of this in a future article or series.

End notes

Few researchers are awarded the opportunity to build a lab from the ground up. But having your own shiny, new lab gives you the opportunity to correct any previous annoyances, slight inconveniences and shortfalls.


  • Have foresight as you plan and design your lab.
  • Budget for essentials.
  • Get to know your neighbours.

With these in hand, you’ll be off to a great start and a fruitful next stage in your research career.


Read previous/third in series: Best Practices for working in and maintaining a Dry Lab


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