College Advice Blog

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Oct 8, 2012

Have You Backed Up Your Thesis? Tales of Woe and Suggestions on How to Avoid a Dilemma

We have all heard the horror stories of losing your precious documents to a freak computer glitch or a lost thumb drive.  I can personally speak from experience, losing one, two, or in my case, your entire body of undergraduate work to a computer crash can be one of the most devastating, stressful and overall low points of your professional career.  To think back on this and realize that it could have all been avoided by a few simple preventative steps is definitely a Homer Simpson, “doh” moment.  Backing up your thesis or even any other important written document is as simple as remembering to do it and to do it often.  Saving your work only takes a moment and by doing this easy step every step of the way, you can make sure your name is not added to the ever growing list of those that have succumbed to the folly of forgetting.

Everyone can relate to being in that pivotal moment with your computer and a written document, being forced to stare helplessly onto the blue screen of death or a glitched out Word document. Perhaps you’ve even fallen to leaving that important proposal in the cab you took to work and stared helplessly as your hard work takes a left on 43rd street. Whether your situation has ended in complete failure or not depends on the amount of preventative measures you took beforehand.

When I was working through my undergraduate courses, at no point did a professor or instructor take the time throw out a quick blurb about backing up your papers and reports.  For some who are reading this, I am sure you are thinking, “Well David, did they tell you to make sure to breathe every three to four seconds as well?” Don’t get me wrong, the issue of backing up your work is definitely one that some people do without thinking, but for others, specifically those who have never been faced with this dilemma before, they may not be thinking as forward. Below are a few easy tips and solutions that any grad, undergrad or even high school student should keep in mind.

Save and Save Often

Seems a little silly but before the great computer crash of 99’, I would literally only save my work when powering down or even worse, when the document was finished (yes I just left the computer on).  Now, I have gotten in the habit of saving after every paragraph or every thought.  Word has even made this process less tedious for those of us that can’t be bothered to move the mouse to that precious blue diskette.  Simply pressing a combination of alt (or command for us Mac savvy) plus the letter “S” gets the job done too.

You might be saying, “But Word and most other writing programs auto save for you, you don’t really need to do this.”  This is true but the algorithm these programs use to be cued to auto save is often unreliable or incomplete.  I have also fallen to this disaster as my computer decided to randomly update.  When I logged back in, the majority of my paper was intact but that last paragraph I wrote was gone and that clutch way I worded the concluding sentence was, just like the rest of the paragraph, lost to me.

Back it Up

Saving your document locally is great, but in the case of a freak power surge or computer crash you are going to want to make sure your precious hard work is also housed off site.  Accomplishing this can take place in a number of ways but the most reliable way would be making use of a secure and inexpensive thumb drive.  Simply plug in your USB drive and all you gotta do is drag and drop.  I recommend doing this every time you walk away from your computer and finish with your work for the day.  Also, thanks to the latest innovations in art and technology these can be dressed up in all sorts of really clever and creative ways (seriously, do a quick Google search under the terms “art thumb drive”, some of the things you’ll see are brilliant). Make a habit of carrying that drive with you in your backpack or purse and you’ll never be in a situation where that paper or presentation is too far away.

It’s all in the Cloud

Technology is ever advancing and with its steady forward pace comes a whole slew of new opportunities for saving and storage.  Cloud computing and storage are slowly making their way to personal use, (see Apple’s cloud service for your music tracks and videos).  With the ability to be accessed anywhere with a Wi-Fi hot spot of 3G/4g network, it is quickly becoming the go-to avenue of choice for housing your work and documents. Simply download or install the service of your choice and follow the company’s’ easy instructions to uploading and securing your documents.

A variety of services and software exist for your use with an equal varietal price.  Some companies are even offering you free space in their cloud for the more people you recommend to their site, gigs for friends, not a bad deal in the social media age.  A quick inquiry on the app store returns you with hundreds of different programs.  Just make sure whatever company you go with is up to date on their security measures and is adhering to the latest laws and rules that govern these types of services.

Whichever method is your forte, do it, and do it often.  While the tone of this article is a little light-hearted, losing days or even years’ worth of works is not.   Corrupted or missing documents will do you no good when it comes to representing yourself for Grad school. Recommendation letters will be a trying time when the letter writer has no point of reference.  Your body of work is essentially your proof of purchase.  Make sure you are doing everything in your power to keep it safe, secure and stored.
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About the Author

As a writer and computer enthusiast, David Rocke was helping his friends program their computers and protect their documents for years before he became the resident blogger for Vanguard Archives 
of Chicago.
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