Guest Post: A Student’s Perspective on Setting up a Lab


Guest Post: A Student’s Perspective on Setting up a Lab

Moving a lab is a tough challenge (we've done it several times). In her article, guest writer MSci student Tomi Akingbade, shares some tips on unpacking and the lessons she learned in the process.

When I heard that my placement supervisor, Prof. Elizabeta Mukaetova-Ladinska, was setting up her new lab here at the University of Leicester, I was eager to assist. Through this experience, the lab was reintroduced as a space to cultivate innovation and prepare me for my future as a researcher. It is with this reformed perspective that I provide a reflective account of the realities of preparing a lab for research.

Where do you start?

I believe it is important to think of a new lab as a blank canvas, a chance to reorganise and improve from previous lab set-ups.

A key starting point is to account for the basic infrastructure of the lab. Before we began unpacking, we took into account the location of 'built-in' structures such as the sink, shelving, electrical outlets, windows, and fume cupboards. and the relevance they would have for our experiments (i.e. ELISA techniques needed to be near water outlets; immunohistochemical liquids in the fume cupboard).

Next, we began the mental placement of mobile equipment. We thought about the location of the larger equipment and their requirements.

For instance, computers and monitors need electrical outlets, microscope imaging is more effective in low light and screens are better perceived when not facing a window. At this stage, it was rather handy to have an abundance of Post-It Notes available to label locations that had already been allocated to certain equipment or techniques. (This is specially useful if you are working on unpacking the lab over a number of days.)

How to unpack a lab

It quickly became apparent that two heads were definitely better than one, and a senior researcher's knowledge is of great benefit. It is advisable to take mentorship from someone with experience of working in a lab and not to feel as though the task needs to be tackled single-handedly.

It would have been impossible to have unpacked the entire lab in one day, which is why "unpacking sessions" were incorporated into our schedules over a number of days. To anybody in the middle of unpacking a lab, I can vouch for the fact that it gets easier.

During the unpacking process, it was very important for us to be flexible in our thinking and not be set in our ways.

On many occasions, we found that where we had once planned for equipment to go was no longer sufficient and had to make the adjustments. We also found that it was best to overestimate and leave room for things to be added to the lab as research commenced. We abandoned the easily-assumable notion that all available space must be filled in order to move on to the next section and dedicated things to sections based on their use in techniques (i.e. all equipment used in histological research was kept in the same area). This was especially important as boxes arrived in the new lab unlabelled and in a random order.

My advice

It is important to understand that it is through asking questions and ceasing learning opportunities that you will gain the best knowledge of your field. I have found it most rewarding to be inquisitive and seek every task as an opportunity to learn.

To mentors, I say: be aware that a new lab can be intimidating. Whilst mundane to the experienced scientist, such a task as setting up a lab is rare to a young scientist and gives them an educational edge over their peers.

Assisting an established professor in unpacking a lab she has spent 30+ years fortifying was eye-opening to say the least. I am fortunate that Prof. Mukaetova-Ladinska is a natural teacher and used this experience to give me some background on the logistics that are involved in acquiring a sophisticated research lab. During the process, I became familiar with different methods and noticed the differences and similarities between methods that I would be using in my research.

It is through this experience that I became more confident and familiar with a laboratory. Now, what remains, is to make use of the new space and produce results – hopefully one of them will be my forthcoming thesis. I will keep you informed.


The process of moving into the new lab would have been a much more demanding task without the help of Matt Barker and Tom Richards who went above and beyond their roles to see to it that we settled comfortably in the new environment. The IT support from Rob Hemmings is highly appreciated. An extension of gratitude also goes to all the staff in the Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour department here at the University of Leicester who have welcomed us with open arms. And, last but by no means least, I owe a massive thanks to Prof Mukaetova-Ladinska for allowing me to be part of the process and giving me such a rare and beneficial experience.

Tomi Akingbade is on placement at the University of Leicester, UK working under Prof Elizabeta Mukaetova-Ladinska, Chair of Old Age Psychiatry. Tomi will be working on apolipoprotein and tau protein in dementia during her masters. When outside of the lab, Tomi is very interested in sports, she is a keen fan of athletics. Tomi also enjoys the theatre, music and art. Tomi hopes to explore Europe this year and immerse herself in different cultures and cuisines! Connect with her via email at tomi.akingbade(at) or Twitter @tomi_akingbade.