When I was in sixth grade, my Dad was my baseball coach, and he gave me the responsibility of entering all of the statistics from each game into a spreadsheet he taught me how to make and use. Anyone who plays baseball knows that this is an important job, as stats are really the most important part of baseball. The weekend before our last game, the computer disk I had everything saved on crashed. I lost everything. I spent the entire weekend rebuilding and reentering all of the data. A lesson was learned. Now, I back up.
I have heard too many horror stories from fellow graduate students this year about losing dissertation data, and they rarely result in happy endings. That is why I have become an avid user of Dropbox, a free tool that lets you sync your files over the internet to all of your computers and mobile devices. This should be a must-have for every student, particularly graduate students. You get 2 GB free, and can get up to 8 GB free by recommending the service to others. For an annual fee, you can upgrade to 50 or 100 GB of space, worth it if you’re storing a lot of important data. It works for macs and pcs, and is a pretty mindless operation: download the software, put your projects in it, and watch it sync. Then just work on your projects from within that folder. Dropbox also lets you share folders with other Dropbox users, meaning that you can collaborate on projects, articles, and other things with your colleagues (meaning less mindless e-mail and only ONE draft of whatever project or report you’re using).
Of course, you shouldn’t rely on just Dropbox. I have become good friends with mac’s Time Machine, and also have an external hard drive and a flash drive I back up on. Space has become incredibly cheap now days, and it isn’t worth the thousands you might have to spend to get a forensic expert to pick apart a hard drive compared to the $100 for a quality, secure, and slick looking external drive. Most of the new external drives do exactly what Time Machine does, and automatically back up your files when you start up your machine.
So, Dropbox, an external hard drive, and a flash disk for at least a dissertation draft. With your data and you dissertation safe and secure, you can cut back on worrying and pay more attention to beating graduate school.
Tool Tip: Live in Dropbox. I have all of my active projects, for school, research, organizations I’m in, and personal stuff, all housed in Dropbox. This way, I always have access to them, be it on my iPhone or iPad, or if I need to access something online (I use Dropbox to print things out at the library a lot). By living in Dropbox, you make sure that everything is in the same spot all the time, and it is always backed up!