Thoughts on Slack for Research Groups

I am eager to try out Slack in a research group as a way to improve the organization and increase the productivity of the team.

Currently, digital communication in research groups is mostly happening via email, for example for sending out paper drafts, figures, planning meetings. This can get very cluttered and is not well curated/organized, and hence inefficient.

Slack may offer several benefits for research teams. Most importantly, communications are becoming better organized by using channels for scientific projects, tags for experimental techniques or code, etc. Data are not lost in your email inbox but could be organized for each project separately. The integratration with services like Dropbox (for files), GitHub (for code/analyses), Google Calendar (for meetings, conferences…), or Google Docs (eg for collaborative writing on abstracts or papers, revising presentation slides) offers exciting opportunities. Also, Slack may offer an easy way of communication when part of the team is not sharing the same location, i.e. on a conference or a writing vacation :)

These possible benefits of Slack come with several caveats: imperfect implementation would hinder optimal usage. Probably it’s best to start with a small team, test the service well and get experience, and then graudally expand to the whole group. Curation of contents would take some time, adding right tags and organizing channels so that they benefit the whole group. Like for e-mails, the research team would need to develop a Slack etiquette: how do we communicate with each other friendly and effectively, and how do we keep out spam? Finally, I really have no idea how the costs may be over time. Outsourcing data and discusisons to Slack’s servers may create (patient) privacy issues. And some documents/folders will need to be hard-copy archived.

Ideas on the use of Slack in research groups

  • Have a digital journal clubwhere research group members share their reading in short summaries and highlight important issues for the whole group (provided a standard format).
  • Collaboratively develop research projects: plan experiements, review results, submit an abstract to a conference together, write the paper. All integrated in one channel with extensions to GitHub, Dropbox, and the
  • Plan/brainstorm on new scientific projects: collect ideas (brainstorm), select and develop ideas into proposals for grants or planning.

Further reading

  1. 6 Ways to Streamline Communication in Your Research Group Using Slack
  2. Slack Inside the MacArthur Lab
  3. Slack Help Center: Tips for team creators and admins
  4. 11 useful tips for getting the most out of Slack
  5. Advanced Slack tips for geeks

On a final note

There may be different tools that offer similar options: e.g. Mattermost (Open Source Slack) and read Open Sourcers Race to Build Better Versions of Slack on WIRED.