Laptops get stolen, memory sticks seldom survive an accidental boil wash (I’m on my third), and Word can be relied upon to corrupt your most important document. Unfortunately, most of us don’t realise the importance of backing up until it’s too late. If you’ve spent many years working on a research project, then your data is probably your most valuable asset. It’s vital that you look after it.
I’ve met many researchers who’ve suffered the devastating consequences of data loss. This has included stolen laptops, hard drives wiped by airport scanners, and all research material destroyed in a house fire. Some people were left with no choice but to begin their project all over again.
Fortunately, there are lots of tools out there to help you.
Choosing a backup tool
A good backup solution should be:
- automatic – it should run at scheduled times so you don’t have to remember to do it
- systematic – it needs to reliably back up your most important files
- global – you don’t want a system that’s tied to your desktop if you’re actually working on a laptop remotely
- accessible – in the event of data loss, you must be able to easily access your files
Consider your current backup solution, if you have one – does it meet these criteria? For example, copying files to an external drive is better than nothing, but in the event of fire/theft/other calamity, you’ll lose both your computer and your backup. Dropbox certainly has some advantages, but to avoid data loss you’ll need to either work permanently in the cloud, or remember to keep uploading your important files. And emailing documents to yourself definitely doesn’t count. For ultimate protection, you need a dedicated online backup solution.
I’ve used at least half a dozen over the last 10 years. The tool I’ve stuck with the longest is iDrive. It’s good value for money and is relatively easy to use. I work across three different computers and they all back up to my iDrive account throughout the day. From the iDrive website, I can quickly restore individual files, folders, or absolutely everything. You’ll see a notification if iDrive was unable to complete the job, so you can enjoy peace of mind. You can even access your data through the phone app.
Whatever you decide to use, a strong backup plan will mitigate against a variety of disasters. It takes a little while to get everything set up, but it’s much easier than having to redo your work.
I receive a small amount of commission if you sign up to iDrive with this link. This revenue contributes to the running of PhD Progress. I only ever recommend tools that I use myself and that have proved reliable.