Beginning the Semester Reminder: Backups

Well … I guess I took a summer hiatus. Didn’t really mean to; but everything got kind of blurry with the loss of my friend, Nacho, in July. It’s taken the semester’s start to give me a swift kick in the butt and start feeling like myself again. As such, I wanted to take advantage of the relatively calm Friday to get back into posting. This one (as the title indicates) is about backing up your stuff (which most of you do, I’m sure). More posts will be coming, however, as this is a big writing year for me as I try to finish off the book. So without further adieu, here are my thoughts on backing up your important crap. 

I usually wait until after the first catastrophic failure of the semester to post something about this to the grad students in my program (and occasionally share it online), but I thought I’d try to get ahead of the curve this time around. Keeping good backups of your research, writing, and teaching materials is INCREDIBLY important — so important that it warrants all-caps and bold. 🙂 What counts as a “good backups,” you might ask? Well, I think the best kind of backups keep your files “off-site,” meaning that your files are preserved on a networked drive that itself has good backups.

Thumb/flash drive = bad backup. Why? Because they’re easy to lose … or put through the wash … or melt … or flush … or crush. They’re great for transferring files from one machine to another and that’s about it, IMHO.

External hard drive = better, but still bad. Why? Because if your backup is sitting next to your computer and your place burns down or is burgled, you still lose everything. Don’t get me wrong — an external hard drive is a good thing on which to run regular and comprehensive backups; but at least consider keeping it somewhere other than where your computer is stored (e.g., keep it in your office on campus). Still, it’s too much for most people to do a comprehensive backup every day; so you need a way to easily and safely backup your current stuff.

Cloud storage = best. Why? It’s offsite, secure, and is itself backed up by the service provider. It’s not the most efficient way to do a comprehensive/complete backup of your hard drive (an external HD is best at that); but it is the best way to keep backups of your current/most used files. For example, all of my teaching and research materials from the last year or so are stored on my Dropbox account; so if anything goes wrong with my desktop *or* laptop computers, I’m still safe and have a current copy of everything that’s important to me.

I’ve tried a few different storage solutions and think that the best one (in terms of features and ease of use) is Dropbox. Dropbox is free (with 2GB of storage), has a program that installs on your computer to make the backups/syncs between multiple computers automatic, and is super easy to use. Also, you get a bump in storage space for referring friends (and they get some extra space for being referred). Right now, a number of us professors in my department are using Dropbox to distribute readings for grad classes; and as ProfHacker and others on the Chronicle demonstrate, there are many other ways to be using Dropbox effectively and efficiently. Beyond using it for class, though, be sure you’re backing up your important research and teaching files too!

If you don’t have a Dropbox account, read more about it and sign up here: (yeah … that’s my referral link)

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