Interview with Lacey Dobrolecki

December 16, 2021
Yasmina Ibsen

Lacey is Assistant Laboratory Director at Baylor College of Medicine and a long-time Studylog user.

Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?    

I grew up in Rensselaer, Indiana. It's a small rural country area out in the middle of nowhere. I got my Bachelor's degree in Medical Technology from the University of Evansville, in Southern Indiana. I then got my Master's degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Indiana University at their location in Indianapolis, Indiana.  

What sparked your interest in Science?

I was one of those kids who always liked science but didn't want to do the whole nurse or doctor thing. I was always more interested in the testing part of it so I went into medical technology and was working in a clinical lab for a couple of years doing newborn screening testing. During that time my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer so I became interested in research, switched from medical technology to the research side, and then ended up going back and getting my Master's.

Did you have any specific role models? If so, who were they?

My first PI at Indiana University. Her name was Dr. Linda Malkas and she was really instrumental in recruiting me from the clinical side. She convinced me to go into research and to not be terrified of the switch because it was a completely different world from what I had been doing. Having a strong female role model who was so passionate about science and breast cancer was impactful. Even though she was a Ph.D. and not a clinician, she was very passionate about helping patients. She did a lot of layperson talks to help the general public understand breast cancer and what research was being done to try to help breast cancer patients. I was really fortunate to have her as my first principal investigator and she was really instrumental in hooking me into research and training me to scientifically think about how we can address the problems that patients are facing. She inspired me to be passionate about the translational part of science.

What would you say to a young person considering a career in science or specifically oncology?

I would say to go for it. It's a little challenging because science is one of those fields where you have to always be prepared for a little bit of failure. It's trial and error. That's why it's called research. We're establishing new methods and trying new Science is always advancing so it's exciting. It's really neat to be on the side of things where you're working on projects that are hopefully going to help patients down the road. It's a challenging career, but it's very intellectually stimulating and exciting, even though it can sometimes be frustrating.That's the reality of it.

What is important to you personally? I.e.what things do you value most in life?

First and foremost, I value my faith and my family. I try to put those first when possible, but as far as my professional career, I really value trying to make a difference. My whole goal, especially with what we do in our lab, is to test drugs pre-clinically that will someday help patients in the clinic. Hopefully, we will find drugs that provide cures for cancer with fewer side effects and we will know which patients to treat with which drugs. When my kids ask, “Oh mommy, why do you have to go to work?” I say, “Well, I'm trying to help people.“ That's why it's important to me, as much as I love my family and would maybe want to stay home, what drives me is trying to help people battle this awful disease.

What are some of the challenges you have faced either in your career or personally that you feel have helped you become the successful person you are?  

I've been pretty lucky to have worked for some very good principal investigators. At one point, my principal investigator went from Baylor to Methodist and I went with her along with some other people in the lab.  It was a really challenging time because it ended up not panning out how we all thought it would. I was faced with working with people that perhaps weren't great critical thinkers and weren't necessarily the best scientists. Having to navigate those waters and still do my work and do it well really helped me focus on what I really wanted out of the lab. I wanted to do research that meant a lot but also work with people who were very good scientists. Not everybody is the most thoughtful scientist and being exposed to that reality has helped me become more focused on making sure I do high-quality good work so that, when I publish data, I know the work was done correctly. When an experiment doesn’t work, it doesn't work, and you write the results down and go on, you don't try to massage anything. It just is what it is, you double-check your work, and then accept the result and move on.

What did you think when you first saw Studylog?

I thought it was fantastic. We had been dabbling in large-scale treatment studies using handwritten sheets of data so I was really impressed with the scope of what it could do and the ease with which it could be done, such as being able to take your caliper measurements and your body weight measurements and have them go straight into a database. Getting real-time graphs of our data allows us to more closely monitor our results. It was so much better than a previous software we had tried before I learned about Studylog. We were really impressed and I pushed very hard for a couple of years to get the funding because I knew it was going to change the way that we could do our work.

Has Studylog saved you time? How has Studylog impacted you or your team?  

Since we started using Studylog four years ago, we've grown from a team of two to a team of five and it's greatly impacted the number of studies we can handle at one time. Studylog decreases the amount of data handling that we have to do since we are not constantly inputting numbers, trying to create graphs from data, or transforming data for our statistical team. All of that has been eliminated and we can just export our reports. We get the data in real-time. So when my PI asks about the status of a study, I can show him immediately without having to put it into Excel, then flip it into Graph Pad Prism and do all the formatting. I'd say, per individual study, it probably saves us at least eight to 12 hours of data manipulation time which is then time that my team spends doing more studies so that's how our throughput has increased. Back when there were two of us, we could do maybe two or three 20 mice studies at a time. We are now a team of five that can do four to five 80 mice studies at a time which would not have been possible without using the software [a three-fold increase in throughput].

What would you say to people who prefer to use Excel because it is free?

Yes, Excel is free and Studylog is not necessarily the cheapest software, but the amount of money that you save in employee time more than makes up for the cost of the software. The second thing that we really noticed is that Studylog cuts down on our data transcription errors. With Excel, when we would go back and look at our data and do quality control, numbers would get entered incorrectly, decimal points would be in the wrong place, dates would be wrong, and all sorts of things happened when people manually entered data into Excel. The other big thing is that you lose a lot of valuable information about the mice. You might notice that on a particular treatment study some of the mice are all skinny or are losing hair or some other clinical observation, and you might make a note about it on your sheet, but you can't ever input that into something that you can search and actually run a report on and look for trends. It just gets logged on an Excel sheet somewhere and over time the information gets lost because there's no way to find it in a search. When using Excel, you really lose a lot of valuable information across studies and about individual mice. Another benefit of Studylog is that the data related to a project is in one place. Prior to Studylog, we had Excel sheets for initial calipers, randomization, on study data collection, drug formulation, etc; we had four or five Excel sheets for each project but now everything's all in one spot. In StudyLog, all of that information is in the individual project, the staff are able to find it and everybody's looking at the same information. Studylog is so much more efficient than Excel!

What is your favorite Studylog feature?

My favorite feature is the reporting tool. I love the reporting!  Having everything spit out in one place is a quick and easy way for me to be able to look at data, check for errors, and look for missing data. It's a great way to troubleshoot things and as I said before, just getting those reports in real-time and having the data immediately available is fantastic.

What do you do for fun when you're not curing cancer?

I'm a mom of three little girls, so they obviously keep me busy and running around.  I've always been a runner and I love all outdoor sports, so I'll be playing soccer, softball, or volleyball. I also like to read a lot, especially mystery or science books.