About Prudent $cholar

The Prudent Scholar explores the topic of money and higher education. We look at at big picture and small: both the latest news and the nitty-gritty details of college life that might help you save money and get more value from your educational experience.

March 30, 2011

A Thief Stole My Homework

Beware the break-in.  Photo by Tim Samoff
One of the most valuable things a student can own is a laptop. But, even more valuable to you and your future is what's inside. You can insure a laptop, but can money replace the information that lies within?

When I was an undergraduate, data was fragile.  We used floppy disks. They weren't floppy; they weren't disk-shaped. What they were was unreliable. We'd keep backups of our backups.

Data is less fragile now, but it is vulnerable.  Laptops are still breakable and their best quality, their portability, makes them an easy target for theft.   If that's where you keep your papers, your thesis, your photos, your life, think about how to safeguard it so that if your laptop's lost to theft or natural disaster, at least you still have the data.  Think about the worse case scenario and think beyond that.

Jessica Osuna, a doctoral student lost six years of work when someone smashed in the door of her home to steal her laptop.  The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:
"Ms. Osuna was not naive about safeguarding her work. She ran automatic backups of her 15-inch MacBook Pro onto a small external drive. Then every other day or so, she copied her work onto a one-terabyte hard drive that she kept locked in a safe, in case of fire. But whoever burglarized her home busted open the safe and took that drive, too."
A very solid back-up plan might include an external drive, but Ms. Osuna's situation points to the need for an off-site backup plan.

A low-cost option is to post regular copies to CD or USB drive that live off premises. If you're a grad student with an office and multi-year dissertation, you might do that, but for most students, that degree of care is just not practical. It's time to look at other options.

Off-site back up options:

1. Email.  The simplest and cheapest backup is to use email. Every time you complete a draft of an important document email a copy to yourself.
  • Pro:  It's available everywhere email is.
  • Con: Files can get lost in mountains of email. The longer time has passed, the less easy it is to access your information. 
Takeaway: This is a good method for backing up valuable current projects, but it might not be a long-term storage solution.

2. Campus vaults. Many universities make data storage available to students. This is the best option if you can get it.
  • Pros: Convenient for on-campus computing, your campus data storage is probably included in the cost of your tuition and technology fees.
  • Cons: May or may not be easily accessible off campus. Beware of upgrades and make sure you copy the goods before you move on. My grad school papers were stored in a vault that was phased out.  Data never really dies, but resurrection can be a major hassle.
Takeaway: Find out what your campus offers and use it to its full potential. Just make sure to take your data with you when you leave.

3. Clouds.
  • Pros: Available anywhere you can access to an internet connection. Large amounts of space available. Easy to organize and access.
  • Cons: You're looking at $50-$150 a year in fees.
Takeaway:   Costly, but worth it for extremely valuable data years in the making. Probably not necessary for budget-conscious undergraduates who are careful to use other back-up options regularly.

No comments: