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Laboratory-Specific Training

A resource for laboratories to document training internally and create a culture of safety.

On-the-job training in labs

It is important that researchers attain proficient skills in experimental procedures to maintain workplace safety. This is commonly achieved through on-the-job training and collaboration in research settings.

On-the-job training builds a foundation for safe laboratory practices, collaboration, and productivity. Experienced researchers mentor and guide laboratory personnel in learning new experimental procedures safely. 

Sharing procedural knowledge among colleagues has a direct and positive effect on safety performance at the workplace (Liu, Long, and Guo).

Review the information below to learn more about developing an effective training program in your research laboratory.

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Onboarding Procedures

Onboarding New Researchers

When new personnel join a laboratory team, it is important to form a strong on-the-job training foundation that prioritizes a culture of safety. Below is guidance for onboarding new researchers through on-the-job training:

Minimum Training Requirements

The timeline for completion of training is individual and task specific.

  • Frequent communication and safety discussions between the trainer and trainee is essential.
  • Periodically review the trainee’s comfort level, performance, and discuss successes. This is an opportunity to improve communication methods and safety skills.
  • Training should be a stepwise process:
    • Have the trainee observe the procedure.
    • Work cooperatively to complete the procedure.
    • Ask the trainee to conduct the procedure with the trainer.
    • Have the trainee teach the trainer and provide constructive feedback.
    • Trainee is now able to safely work independently.
  • The process flow is up to the trainer and trainee’s discretion.

Documentation of Proficiency

The table below shows a quick way of documenting training sessions for different laboratory specific procedures that help track the new researcher’s progress and skills in the workplace.

Labs should have a training template for each procedure and stepwise process.

Table 1: Process-specific proficiency demonstration

 

Equipment Details (model, manufacturer, serial number)

Review HCP/SOP and Online Training

Observe

Perform under  guidance

Perform Independently under observation

 

Completion Date

Cryostat

 

 

[Date, trainer(s), trainee initials]

[Date, trainer(s), trainee initials]

[Date, trainer(s), trainee initials]

[Date, trainer(s), trainee initials]

Tail vein injections

 

 

[Date, trainer(s), trainee initials]

[Date, trainer(s), trainee initials]

[Date, trainer(s), trainee initials]

[Date, trainer(s), trainee initials]

Western Blotting

 

 

[Date, trainer(s), trainee initials]

[Date, trainer(s), trainee initials]

[Date, trainer(s), trainee initials]

[Date, trainer(s), trainee initials]

Trainee/trainer can provide verbal feedback and/or edits to HCPs.

Refresher Training

Having refresher training ensures researchers maintain safety protocols while conducting experiments in the labs. Refresher training should be completed annually and should be offered and encouraged if a procedure has not been performed in a while (e.g., more than three months). Lab meetings are a useful venue for refresher trainings or for updating HCP/SOPs.

Furthermore, refresher training may be prompted when lack of proficiency is identified by laboratory personnel, the PI, safety staff, or following an incident. If an incident occurs, all parties must complete and document re-training to demonstrate the incident has been addressed and to prevent recurrence. 

For refresher trainings:

  • Document the date, trainer, and attendees.
  • Review HCP and highlight safety practices.
  • Go over the procedure thoroughly and update HCP, if needed.

On-the-Job Training Examples

On-the-Job Training Case: Vanessa & Delilah

Vanessa is a fourth-year graduate student who has been working in a biology laboratory for three years. Her work primarily consists of mice tail vein injections.

Delilah is a third-year undergraduate student who recently joined the lab. This is Delilah’s first year working in a research laboratory, and she will be trained by Vanessa to conduct experiments involving tail vein injections.

Vanessa wants to ensure that Delilah feels comfortable and confident in performing the tail vein injections. They have weekly meetings to review the procedure; gauge Delilah's comfort working in the lab; and discuss academic and workplace goals. In addition, Vanessa demonstrates and eventually supervises Delilah twice a week in hands-on training of the mice tail vein injection procedure.

After three months of training, Delilah feels supported and well-equipped to conduct tail vein injections independently. Delilah appreciates the time and effort Vanessa has taken to teach her safe laboratory procedures and asks Vanessa for advice on how to continue her career in research. 

Simultaneously, Vanessa feels intellectually and personally rewarded by the training interaction and has inspired her to pursue academia as a teaching professor. Vanessa plans to start her own laboratory group in the future and use a comprehensive on-the-job training program to create a collaborative and productive work environment.

The process-specific proficiency demonstration table is an invaluable tool the pair used to document the training sessions and record understanding of the hands-on learning experience.

As shown in the example above, a good trainer teaches and grows alongside the trainee. Other results of a great on-the-job training include:

  • Modeling teamwork.
  • Taking proactive safety measures.
  • Trainees are encouraged to become trainers and share their laboratory knowledge.
  • Trainers share examples of laboratory experiences, struggles, and/or near miss incidents.

 

 

Skills for Providing Training

How do you know if you would make a good trainer?

  • Expertise: A good trainer has a strong background and expertise in the area they are teaching. This ensures that the trainer can provide valuable guidance and advice to their trainees.
  • Strong communication skills: A good trainer should have excellent communication skills, both written and verbal. Trainers should be able to clearly explain complex concepts, provide feedback, and listen actively to their trainees.
  • Availability and approachability: A good trainer should be available and approachable to their trainees. Trainers should be willing to meet regularly, answer questions, and provide guidance when needed.
  • Patience: A good trainer should be patient. Trainers should be able to understand the challenges and struggles that their trainees may face and provide support and encouragement when needed.

Trainer Expectations

Effective training in research laboratory skills consists of a supportive culture and clearly defined roles. Below are some guidelines for trainer expectations:

  • Foster a supportive laboratory environment:
    • Create a positive and inclusive laboratory culture.
    • Encourage trainees to ask clarifying questions, share their ideas, and provide feedback.
  • Set clear expectations:
    • Communicate expectations and goals.
    • Describe the trainer’s role and responsibilities.
    • Establish clear timelines to help trainees stay focused and motivated.
  • Provide training and guidance:
    • Offer regular training sessions.
    • Provide guidance on research methods, data analysis, and interpretation.
    • Encourage trainees to ask questions and seek help when needed.
    • Stay up to date with best laboratory practices.
    • Trainers support trainees to overcome challenges.

Trainee Expectations

Below are some tips on how a trainee can benefit the most from on-the-job training:

  • Be an active listener:
    • Be attentive and engaged during training.
    • Provide feedback and respond respectfully.
  • Notetaking:
    • Take notes during training sessions and demonstrate understanding by explaining procedure in own words.
    • Provide feedback to refine HCPs.
    • Annotate the protocol with helpful tips, drawings, or diagrams.
  • Communication:
    • Trainees are encouraged to ask questions during training sessions, such as on the reasoning behind a procedure or clarifications on the experimental design.
      • Safety concerns should be addressed immediately.
    • Asking questions creates an opportunity for both trainees and trainers to build communication and collaboration skills.
    • Be considerate of the trainer’s time. Be prepared to schedule time with trainers for complex and multiple questions.

Methods of In-Person Laboratory Training

In all methods of training, it is important that both the trainer and trainee are open to questions and feedback. Successful on-the-job trainings rely on strong communication and the ability to work well with each other.

One-on-One Training

A researcher new to a project should be assigned to a more experienced researcher to instruct them on how to conduct research techniques safely. The timeframe and structure for the training are agreed on by both the trainer and trainee. Below are some tips for one-on-one training:

  • Hands on technical instruction and guidance.
  • Initial frequent check-in meetings.
  • Once the trainee gains confidence and skill for the procedure, check-in meetings can decrease.

Below is a case example of a one-on-one training in the lab:

Vanessa and Delilah’s training on tail vein injection procedures is an example of a one-on-one job training experience. After proficiency was demonstrated, Delilah felt confident and performed the procedure independently. During one-on-one training, Vanessa was able to attentively answer any questions Delilah had about working in the lab. Answering Delilah’s questions helped Vanessa gain a deeper understanding of the procedure.

Group Training

One trainer is assigned to a group of trainees. Trainers set the teaching pace for the group while considering individual skill levels.

  • This approach facilitates collaboration among trainees to boost absorption of new techniques and safety principles.
  • Weekly group meetings to discuss what was learned will allow all trainees to learn from their trainer and from each other.
  • When each trainer is responsible for a small number of trainees, the on-the-job training dynamic becomes more personalized, effective, and impactful. It is recommended that a group has no more than two trainees at a time.
  • Will initially involve frequent individual trainee check-in meetings to gauge their understanding of material and comfort level. The frequency of these group meetings can decrease over time as the trainees’ skills and confidence increase.

Below is a case example of group training in the lab:

When Rafael joined Vanessa and Delilah’s lab, Vanessa taught both trainees how to conduct tail vein injections on mice and went at a pace suitable for both. Vanessa answered research questions while training them together and set up team building activities related to laboratory work so the group could improve their collaboration and productivity. After completing the training process, Rafael and Delilah provided feedback to help improve the process for future lab members.   

Peer Training

The trainer is an individual in the laboratory with a similar role to the trainee(s). These individuals can partner to teach and support each other.

  • The trainer must be the person with more experience who has developed expertise in their current role.
  • Expertise of the trainer, and their eligibility in this role, is determined by the PI.
  • Emphasis is placed on safely performing lab techniques.
  • When the trainee has developed confidence and skill in their new role, they should be evaluated by a senior lab member before working independently.

Here is a case example of peer training in the lab:

A year after Vanessa graduated from her PhD program, Delilah and Rafael were the most experienced researchers working on tail vein injections in the lab. During this time, Peng transferred to Delilah and Rafael’s laboratory team from a different department. Peng has has one year of experience performing mice tail vein injections but is new to the material that gets administered into the mice. Delilah and Rafael serve as Peng’s peer trainers to provide thorough guidance on the safety procedures for working with the new hazard. Their goal is to have Peng achieve proficient knowledge, training, and skill when handling the material during the procedure.

Resources & References

Resources

References

Contact your RAP specialist for help with all research safety questions, or ehsrap@ucsd.edu.