One of the greatest horrors for all PhD students is the fear of losing your dissertation through some sort of computer disaster. We’ve all heard the stories, or perhaps suffered the consequences of data getting deleted accidentally or a hard drive failing. I have a number of precautions in place to make sure that if one of these things happens, I am protected. I live inside Dropbox, for example, meaning that every document I create is automatically pushed to the Dropbox servers. I have an external ReadyNAS system (on loan from a friend. Thanks, Jeremy!) that not only serves as an external hard drive, but is actually three hard drives that creates redundancy in those hard drives so that if one of them malfunctions, the data is also saved on one of the other drives. I also have Time Machine set up on a separate hard drive that also includes my dissertation data. And, lastly, I carry around the actual written draft of my dissertation on my keychain on a USB stick. This way, if my house burns down or there is a robbery, I’ll at least have the written draft on my person.
One of my favorite tricks with the USB stick is the automated backup I’ve created using the application Keyboard Maestro. This is a fun application that sets up automated workflows that are triggered by any number of actions, ranging from a time of day to a specific key stroke. In this case, the workflow is triggered when I plug in the USB stick. Once the stick is mounted, Keyboard Maestro launches into action. I get a notification telling me a backup is in progress. The copy of my dissertation on the USB stick is deleted, and then the copy from my computer is copied onto the stick. I then get another notification letting me know it’s done, and I can remove the USB stick safely.
The beauty of this system is that it means I don’t have to actually do anything: I just plug in the stick, and the backup is completed behind the scenes. This way, I never run the risk of accidentally missing a chapter in the copying process. It also means that it doesn’t feel like a task or something I have to do. I just plug in a USB stick. Backing up my work is one of the most critical parts of writing my dissertation, and this simple workflow removes every single possible barrier to me making sure it’s safe.
What tips and tricks do you use to keep your dissertation and other research safe and secure?