Friday, February 13, 2015

Moving Stories

Have you been involved in moving a research lab/facility from one place to another within one institution, such as during a building renovation or a move to a new building on campus? How did that go?

I am particularly interested in hearing examples of moves that involved postdocs, grad students, or other researchers paid 100% from grants: did the postdocs/students/researcher do move-related work while paid by these grants, and was that a problem?

And if it was a problem, was this because:

1 - research was disrupted owing to the time required to move the lab (including downtime as equipment was moved) -- that is, time when researchers could not do their research as they would have without the disruption of the move. What was the total duration of the disruption? (Do you have any advice about to minimize this time?)

2 - there was an administrative issue regarding paying people (from grants) to do work not originally accounted for in the grant. For example, a researcher paid 100% time on a grant is not allowed to work on another project, not even outside of normal working hours (I have a problem with that, but that is another issue and the subject of previous post-rants on effort certification). Or were you able to justify the move-related work as being relevant to the grant(s) and the effort certifiers were happy?

3 - both of the above;

4 - none of the above;

4 - other (please explain).

If you were one of the aforementioned researchers who had to do move-related activities because your lab was moving (for whatever reason), did this have a negative effect on you (e.g., your productivity?), and was there anything that was done (or that you think could realistically have been done) to help you?

Some PIs and other researchers at my university and at other universities have wildly divergent opinions about the topic of how to deal with this type of intra-campus move.

So, I am looking for your Moving Stories. There are likely some impressive tales of moving woe out there, but I am hoping there are also heartwarming moving stories with happy endings (and beginnings and middles). 


16 comments:

doctor_chick said...

I was part of a lab that moved across campus 3 months before defending my thesis (epic timing). I don't know anything about the financial side of things - the PI covered all of the grad student stipends and I assume the non-students in the lab as well. However, the move itself was incredibly well organized. The PI and lab manager invested quite a bit of time making sure that the new space was organized in advance - drawers and cupboards were already labeled so we didn't have to guess where anything would go or leave it out. Movers helped with the equipment but weren't allowed to move chemicals. The moving week was set in stone, so we could make sure experiments were at good stopping points. Most of us came in the weekend before to move personal desk/lab bench items, so moving week was spent on common items. Team effort and a few long days meant that we were in the new space - picking experiments back up - within the week. Also, pizza and beer were waiting for us Friday afternoon.

Gosh, that got long. Meticulous planning + team work + fixed dates to work around = effective move with much less disruption than I expected.

Alethea said...

My electrophysiology lab moved during my third year of grad school. One student didn't participate much in the pre-move, as he was studying for comps. The PI, the other two grad students (including me), the two techs and the postdoc all participated actively. We packed delicate equipment. We threw out old inventory. We made inventory lists of the stuff that was moving over. We defrosted freezers. We spent about 2-3 weeks packing part time before the move. Then the move happened over about 2 days (handled mostly by movers) and then we spent another 6-8 weeks unpacking, recalibrating, labeling, etc. Lots of our equipment required rebuilding on vibration isolated tables and recalibration of mechanical and computational nonsense, so it took a while. All told, we lost about 2.5 months of work on the move.

We stayed paid by whatever grants we were on (mix of R01, NRSA and institutional training grants). Bottom line, most of the delicate packing, unpacking, calibration, etc had to be done by someone experienced with the work. So I suppose it was "grant related" in that to continue our work, we needed it done. Stuff like tossing old buffers and making inventory lists was probably more lab-manager-work, but the move was kind of inevitable and we would only have lost more time by not helping.

Karen said...

I've twice been in labs that have moved - once a few months before my qualifying exam in grad school, and then again (at a different institution) about a third of the way through my postdoc. Both labs were about 15 years old, with a lot of accumulated stuff. We spent a good 6-8 months before the move gradually cleaning up/pitching old equipment and samples, usually as part of an official Lab Cleanup Day kind of thing.

Everyone (grad students, postdocs, lab manager) pitched in to pack up boxes and equipment; we split responsibilities for instruments, drawers, cabinets... both labs had a point-person who interfaced/organized those assignments and the upper administrative elements of the move (like departmental and construction people). Once we had a hard date for the move, we made a hard stop-date for experiments, and in both cases, the lab wasn't down for more than 5 days (2 final pack days, move day, 2 unpack/resettle/recalibrate days). It took a few more weeks for everything to fully come back on line, but because of careful planning we were able to do basic work with very little downtime.

Like Alethea, all of our time was paid for using regular mechanisms, because it was research-related - we were moving to newer, better facilities that would be a huge benefit to our broader work.

Anonymous said...

I have had to move twice in my career. Once was down the hall when I was a grad student. I don't remember it being such a big deal. It was well-organized and didn't even require movers because we had a tiny lab, easy to organize and an excellent tech who managed everything.

The second move was between institutions (I was an asst prof losing my position at once place and gaining a position at another). I had a post-doc and movers who helped. Everything happened without any trouble and with the exception of learning the ropes at the new institution, we were able to start experiments again almost immediately. It was a lot easier than starting a lab from scratch.

Anonymous said...

Moved within building as a grad student - took about 2 days. We sort of just emptied a drawer onto a cart, moved it down, and then put in new drawer. No real planning other than knowing where things were going in the final place.

My lab has done a similar move. I expected it to be the same plan, and came in the morning to find my grad students had spent days packing up boxes. oh well.

We are likely moving to another building soon.. that will likely be a bigger disruption but I'm hoping with planning only a week or so. I intend to keep paying people on grants as getting the lab functional in our new space (closer to collaborators and facilities will need) will in the long run greatly improve our research productivity. Never even thought about it. I am leaning towards delaying a couple of equipment purchases so that they show up to the new lab rather than setting up/taking down/setting up.

Richard Taylor said...

The federal policy has stated that grant funding for salaries is not meant to be 100% research. A recent OMB clarification stated that all agencies agree that funding supports both research work and professional development opportunities for coworkers. As others have stated the work related to the actual move would not be an issue. However, significant downtime, time between spaces, would be a valid concern.

Anonymous said...

I managed to graduate just in time to avoid the move... But only because the building was delayed almost a year!

The other grad students in the lab weren't so lucky...

Anonymous said...

I've moved 3 times. The first and last were moves in the same building that were relatively easy and disrupted less than 1 week of work.
The second move involved moving into a new building and that was disruptive for at least 1 - 2 months. This move involved cleaning out a long established lab (20+ years with random detritus from the previous lab group) and moving fish colonies from the old building to the new. Happily as the move involved the entire department there was a clear time table and lots of support. To the best of my knowledge everyone was paid of the normal mechanisms throughout the move. Moving the fish caused the most disruption as you have to move a test population first then allow time for acclimation before resuming research.

EliRabett said...

If you have major, purpose built instrumentation, it takes a long time to recover because some little piece does not fit or goes missing or someone forgot to engage a lock down or there were never any lockdowns because no one ever thought the instrument would move, or they left water in the cooling coils which froze in the move, etc.

NEVER MOVE IN THE WINTER outside of your building

Major commercial instrumentation should only be moved by the manufacturer.

Anonymous said...

Our lab moved to another country a couple of years ago, just as I began my 5th gear or grad school. I hated it--it completely threw me off, and having 90% of my social ties cut off and the frustrations of being in a foreign country where I don't know the language led me to struggle with depression over the past year. I'm moving back to the US in just over a month and I CANNOT WAIT.

I know many of my fellow grad students were NOT happy with the move either.

Anonymous said...

I've moved with every lab i've ever been in. First at beginning of my PhD (moved up one floor, did everything with the 15-20 people in the lab except for I guess really big equipment). Second time towards end of postdoc to building across the street. We had to be on one side to pack and on the other end to unpack: rest was done by movers, scheduled by institute: very well organized, lost less than week before we were back up and running. Third time as a postdoc, to new building next to our old one. Also well organized and super great lab mates, so we did all the cleaning and packing and unpacking, but all in good spirit and with about one week loss. Am now preparing for fourth move to new building across town as an assistant professor. Not looking forward to that one, in spite of all my moving experience.

Anonymous said...

We moved after exceeding the capacity of our first lab space - we moved into beautiful, renovated space, and it was an overall WIN for the group.

ADVICE: we had one bit of special equipment that required PLANNING - we had to modify electrical in order to "install" the instrument in the new location. We planned ahead, and the costs were laid out beforehand (it cost money to do the electrical and also the installation of the instrument in the new space) and shared between me (the PI of the lab) and the department.

So - my advice would be - make sure all modifications are planned in advance of moving into the new space. Discuss explicitly how costs associated with modifications will be handled. For example - electrical and perhaps gas lines or perhaps bench configuration (e.g., when we took delivery of a new instrument, we had to modify the bench in order to accommodate the new instrument). Request cost support and/or sharing whenever possible.

For my lab - it was about three days of total chaos in terms of the actual move.... and that was it. We planned - we scheduled - we divied up the chores associated with the move - etc...

E.g., glassware time, O2-free chamber time, office stuff time, chemical inventory time (and we completely updated the inventory), sample archive time (this one required the most of my time), and so forth. My students at that time wrote up a strict schedule, and we followed it. INCLUDING ME!!!!

We have a fantastic staff member who did a TON of the heavy lifting...

Our productivity soon went up because we had better resources (more hoods was the biggest thing) that enabled more efficient and safer execution of experiments. Morale went up because the space was sooooo much nicer.

So - plan!!!! I'm not that great at planning ahead, but for this - my group and I did a bunch of planning. We laid out the hours we would accomplish specific tasks. If we finished early, we either worked on other things or just took a break. The planning paid off big time.

Now - I didn't have to deal with swing space and never had time during which our equipment was in some neverland of un-usability....

But - planning saved us a ton of time....

Anonymous said...

I'm in the middle of this right now, in two different ways. The university kicked us out of our storage space earlier this year, moved us to a new building, and then just moved us within it. We have lots of large stuff in storage for doing fieldwork, some of it very sensitive, some that we need to access reasonably often so it can't just be shoved onto pallets and moved. The U paid for movers the first time but expected us to do it with staff the second. Neither was good and neither had much warning so planning wasn't really an option. I'm also moving to a new lab which is in the final stages of renovations. It's in the same building so it is easier but still requires some planning. Unfortunately, renos are now 2 months behind schedule so any planning we'd done about being between things went out the window. I guess the take home message is planning depends on external things that don't always agree with or care about your plan.

Anonymous said...

Moved with my lab as a graduate student. Very bad experience. My PI took off during the move leaving it on the hands of a me and a postdoc in the lab. We also had a few undergrads to help. But the lab we moved into was not completely ready to go, the utilities were not completely running for the first few weeks. The lab was 30 years old and have years worth of chemicals left over along with old equipment. It was a huge under taking.

Anonymous said...

I have been involved in 2 lab moves: one as a grad student, another as a postdoc. Both moves were pretty easy on my part, it just requires a lot of cooperation among lab members. My advice is to stop doing experiments the week before the move, and then focus on packing and cleaning. The better that items are labeled and packed, the faster you can unpack and get back to work. It may help to use a label maker around lab and write where things will go. The most difficult tasks were assembling and reassembling very expensive, sensitive equipment. That usually has to be done with the help of a field technician from the product's company.

The worst moving story I heard was from a person in an enzymology lab, whose experiments stopped working after the move. Luckily, someone kept some old milli-q water from the old building. It turned out there were higher than expected levels of copper in the water. The new building did not have high copper levels. Thus, they found out their enzyme required copper for function.

Anonymous said...

I am puzzled by the topic of this post. Of course grad students and postdocs paid from grants are required to do the manual labor of moving the lab. Who else is there to do it? The PI himself certainly did not do any of it. He stopped by after it was completed, to criticize and have us re-arrange the furniture and equipment. I guess my question is, what other alternative is there? do other PIs hire moving companies to come and move the lab for them so the grad students and postdocs don't have to do it? I have never heard of such a thing. Or do you mean that the grad students and postdocs of course have to do it, but their salary gets cut for that month? That would be reprehensible and totally unethical in my opinion, since the PI doesn't get their salary with held for this move. Or do you mean that the PI has to find another source of funds to pay the students/postdocs for that month? if so, what other source of funds is there, that can magically appear just like this? I guess I don't understand the significance of this topic. I have been involved in several lab moves as a student and postdoc.