Metadata Management

Project metadata refers to all the information that are used to track project-related items and activities, such as inventory management and activities planning. This section will provide tips on organizing these information


For common reagents and supplies, refer to previous section on inventory management. This section deals with personal mangement of proejct-specific inventories, which can include the following:

  • DNA oligos (d): working solutions of custom ssDNA
  • Plasmids (p): plasmids cloned by you or other lab members
  • Cell lines (c): cell line aliquots stored in liquid nitrogen
  • Reagents (r): includes all aliquots, e.g. DNA & protein stains, proteins, dyes, specialty chemicals, etc.

We use the bolded letters in parentheses as acronyms for the reagent type.

Items are generally stored in 9x9 storage boxes with the following labeling convention: ItemType+YourInitials+IdNumber. For example, a ssDNA working solution prepared by Leo would be labeled dLC001, whereas two plasmids cloned by Leo would be labeled pLC001 and pLC002. Concentrations should be labeled for all samples. For items such as specialty reagents or cell lines, you should also include their names, e.g. HeLa. For plasmids, you should have a corresponding Google Sheet or Excel sheet describing its source such as vendor or experiment number (if you cloned it).

Each reagent type is stored in separate boxes with following naming convention: research name + reagent type + numerical order. For example, Leo’s DNA oligos would be placed in Leo Oligos Box 1, and plasmids would be in Leo Plasmids Box 1. Finally, you should write down the sample range (e.g. dLC001 to dLC081) on the box so you can quickly find items.


We currently use trello to manage tasks. Trello has three hierachy for task organization: cards - lists - boards. A card is a task within a project, like a post-it note. Name the cards according to the task title, and color code them to indicate task type (e.g. reading tasks, writing tasks, and experiments). Cards are organized into lists. Moving a card from list to list reflects its position or status in your workflow. These lists live inside a board that represents your research project, which can have the following lists:

  • Working on
  • Waiting for
  • Recently completed
  • Somday, maybe
  • Reference
  • Goals


A publication or proposal card starts in Working on. Once it has been submitted for review, it will be moved to Waiting for. A publication that has been published can be moved to Recently completed. After some time, e.g., after writing a project report, the recently completed cards will be archived. Whenever the status of a card changes, each person following this card receives an email about these changes.

The Someday, maybe column is used for spontaneous ideas and tasks that have been postponed. The Reference column is used for continuously ongoing tasks, such as maintaining the Website and writing project reports. The Goals column contains cards with the major objectives and/or milestones of the entire research project. (credit: this organizational structure was taken from the Bettstetter group)

Note that this is mainly a visualization tool for your workflow. Brevity is key. Details of each card can live elsewhere (e.g. your evernote if its an idea or experiment folder if its a protocol). Just link to them.

You can basically use different boards to organize everything in your life, examples below:

  • coursework (e.g. finish assignment, read papers, review lecture notes, …etc.)
  • project (e.g. do experiment, prepare buffers, …etc.)
  • personal (e.g. grocery shopping, laundry, meal prep, …etc.)

Sync Trello with your Google Calendar

Following these instructions to sync Trello to your calendar. Each card that has a due date and time will appear on your calendar. You can then use this to develop a schedule for your activities.