Back it up!

Over the years I’ve been involved with post-graduate research I’ve heard many horror stories of lost files. Computers get stolen, or crash. Memory sticks get lost, or even broken. External hard drives get corrupted, as mine did, and refuse to open or copy any of those precious files. And if you’re working on more than one computer it’s easy to overwrite a crucial document or data set if you can’t remember where you’ve put the latest version. So how do you back up your work? Where do you keep the documents you’ve written, the papers you’ve downloaded to read later, your data, your data analysis? Can you access your research files from more than one device? How often do you back them up?

I used to use a memory stick as a backup but eventually my careful process of weekly updates fell foul of Life and Other Distractions. I missed a week or two, and then I couldn’t remember what I’d done recently on which computer. Was Learners_V4.docx on my work computer older or newer than Lrnrs_v5.docx on my home one? Yes, I could look at the date of a file in Microsoft Explorer, but that changed every time I opened a document to take a look. Eventually I discovered Dropbox. Dropbox solved two problems for me straight away. It provided a backup for all the files in my PhD folder, and it made sure that I could access them from any of my devices.

You can download it from here and there’s also an explanation of how Dropbox works there as well. You can get a minimum of 2 Gb of storage free. You can share some of your stuff without sharing all of it, and it works on both PC and Mac. Possible drawbacks are that on an AUT campus it works better on a wireless internet connection than on a networked one, and last year Dropbox caused an internet stir by changing its terms of service so that it looked as if it was taking ownership of everyone’s Dropbox files. There followed an interesting few days of detailed critique on Twitter and immediate modification of Dropbox terms which went on until users were happy with them. Such is the power of social media!

There are other alternatives:


Google drive


I’ve used each of these for minor projects only. Has anyone tried them for postgrad study?

Author: Jennie Swann

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4 thoughts on “Back it up!

  1. Sounds useful but how do I download it to an AUT computer – doesn’t seem to let me because I don’t have administrator access

  2. I use dropbox on my laptop for pretty much all my documents and it’s great. You can get back documents that you saved by mistake, and share folders and large files with people.

  3. I’ve never heard of these other sources however, during the Symposium I noticed that one of the presenters had her slides on Prezi which apparently is another way of storing your files and being able to get your files anywhere on any computer at any time! How cool is that!

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