There are many different ways to categorize lab setups in a university setting. Many of these setups depend on the primary area of focus and the amount of funding the university is able to generate from operations related to the laboratory.
A psychology lab setup, for instance, can be as simple as having one computer running programs, brain sensors and a stimulus presentation software simultaneously.
It can also be as complex as having a psychophysiological and neuroscience lab where different types of biometric sensors are connected and an actual staff is needed to run and maintain it. In addition, the range of investment into a lab is greatly varied.
Labs can range from closet-size rooms with a computer, operator & one-way mirror connected to an observation room, or it can be a multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art facility with the latest technologies.
More often than not, given the lack of funding, a lab setup depends on what is already available at the universities. Typically these one-person closets are then turned into a lab and different equipment from the school is repurposed to whatever the specific student or staff member needs at that time.
We can differentiate between the four most common kinds of laboratory setups:
1. One project, one student, one temporary lab
The simplest lab would be a one project, one student, one lab setup. In this case, the setup is temporary and very easy to set up and run a study. Whenever the project is finalized, the space can be reused for another project with a similar setup.
It is very easy to maneuver from one person to another. The funding for this kind of lab is often on a per project basis and generally is one of the most cost-effective ways to conduct research on a limited budget.
2. Semi-permanent/permanent lab
This kind of lab is slightly bigger and probably the most common where you have a semi-permanent setup with multiple systems that people have to get trained on. Labs like this usually involve more money, more technology and more manpower.
Faculty members prefer this lab type as a permanent fixture for their research, especially since they cycle through new doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows that will need training on operating software & sensors, as well as methodology best practices. A lab manager, who looks over the work of the staff (many times, students), is normally required for this type of lab.
3. Bigger multi-use & cross-disciplinary lab
This kind of lab requires the setup of multiple computers that are used for both teaching and research purposes. A lab like this has either a dedicated research director or lab manager to facilitate the setup, train the staff, and even administer experiments. In the past, this type of mega lab would reside only on well-funded departments or campuses.
However, in the recent past driven by lower cost of equipment and increasing interest in biometrics more and more big lab facilities are being built. Because it actually is a pseudo-classroom, it may also be used in class settings for some advanced neuroscience courses. Students from these courses can also use the space for actual research.
Usually, there is a multiple sensor setup and you would have someone dedicated to managing it, as well as someone dedicated to consultation and education. Often these labs were previously used as survey rooms.
However, the traditional survey methods have not been abandoned – they are augmented or are used to augment new data collection methods. Hardware or any other consumables that are available at each desk can be stored in the desk’s own storage or drawer.
This way, the lab can serve multiple purposes: one day it can be used for traditional survey research, another day it can be used for biometric research. A setup like this involves a significant amount of money since all the equipment needs to be purchased in a bulk.
4. Mobile lab
The three previously described lab types are very well established and common across universities and other research facilities around the world. The mobile lab, however, is becoming much more achievable with advancements in technology, especially wireless sensors.
Now, many of the devices can collect the biometric data in a mobile setup and the sensors can forward data to a laptop or tablet for a versatile lab. This kind of lab, however, requires choosing the right options when purchasing the equipment in order to ensure complete device flexibility.
Doing studies in real-world situations, such as shopping studies or in-store behavior testing, is certainly within reach utilizing these new setups.