Over the last few years of watching my partner complete her doctoral program (and hearing about several of her friends on the same journey), I have noticed some common tech “missteps” grad students make. The 10 tips below will help grad students avoid technology-related inconveniences and catastrophes.
1. invest in cloud storage.
I have been surprised to see how many people still just save Microsoft Office files or photos to their computer. If your computer is stolen, damaged, or experiences a major failure, you run the risk of losing all of your work. Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive are all worth the (low) effort and cost to set up. I currently have Microsoft OneDrive which automatically syncs with files saved on my computer and automatically saves photos and videos from my phone. In addition to having everything backed up, there is the added benefit of being able to access your files from any device or computer should you find yourself without your own.
2. Consider an external hard drive.
An external hard drive accomplishes many of the same things as cloud storage. The one important difference is that you will not have to be connected to the Internet to access your files on an external hard drive. So, you can back up your work, carry it around with you (most of them are slightly bigger than smartphones), and connect to any computer to access your files.
3. Organize files systematically.
So you’ve backed up your work but now you can’t find what you’re looking for! It’s helpful to establish a naming convention for your files and keep it consistent. Use folders. If you have 200 photos, all with files names like “IMG_09875632”, you are going to have a hell of a time finding what your are looking for. There are lots of different approaches to organizing your files. Check out this site , this site , or this site for some quick but detailed reocmmendations.
4. Shut down your computer completely every few days.
The latest computers are extremely efficient. They perform well and can handle a lot. But it’s still a good idea to shut it down completely once in a while to give the computer a chance to rest, reset, update, etc. This way you will avoid your computer becoming sluggish at the most inopportune times like while you are rushing to submit something by deadline or during an important video-conference call.
5. Save all of those interesting Internet articles in a sensible place.
I am notorious for emailing myself articles. There’s nothing wrong with this, but I usually do it all wrong. I don’t put anything in the email subject line or anything in the email body besides the link. This means when I want to find it in my email months later, it will be difficult to retrieve it because there are no searachable terms connected to that email. So, if you’re going to email yourself articles, add enough detail to the email to make it searchable. Better yet, you can use your browser’s bookmarks or use an app like Instapaper (which I use!) or Pocket.
6. Archive webpages.
Speaking of webpages, if your work references webpages, be sure to archive the webpage as it existed at the time of your research. It is the Internet–the webpage could be completely different tomorrow! Don’t lose those valuable artifacts. Archive the webpage with tools like Wayback Machine. The tool generates a permalink of the webpage as it existed at the time you archived it.
7. Create strong passwords and keep track of them.
If you’re like me, you have password fatigue from the many different places you regularly log in. But it is important to create strong, distinct passwords because if someone manages to hack into one account, chances are good that they will gain access to other accounts. Try this tool or this tool to help you create strong passwords. Keeping track of your passwords is just as important so that you don’t waste precious time routinely resetting passwords you’ve forgotten. For a price, you can also opt for a password management app that allows you to securely use one password to authenticate into lots of different places, almost like a master key.
8. Manage your email well.
To some extent, I have accepted the reality of always having an overflowing inbox, but there are a few things that can help. For starters, unsubscribe from promotional or listserv emails that you don’t read. That will cut the clutter quickly. Secondly, utilize the tagging or labeling system of your email client to categorize messages and then archive them. You may have tags/labels for things like: emails from students, emails related to a particular project, or emails related to travel plans. The idea is to de-clutter your inbox and file away emails in a systematic, easily-retrievable way. You may find it helpful to use different email accounts for different purposes. This can be pretty effective but be cautious about having additional inboxes to manage.
9. Get the right devices for your needs.
Most of the items on this list have focused on technological practices and not technological devices. Nowadays, computers and smartphones on the market all do a pretty good job for the average person. However, there are still a few things to consider. For example, if you are going to do be doing ethnographic fieldwork and taking photos with your phone, make sure you have a cell phone with plenty of gigabytes of storage. In that particular case, you’d probably want at least 16 GB. If you need specialized computer applications, steer clear of Chromebooks. They are inexpensive, sleek, and ultra-portable but they may not have what you need “under the hood” to do what you need to do. Evaluate your needs before you make big tech product purchases.
10. Take a break from technology.
My last tip is to occasionally take a break from technology. Our phones and computers are amazing devices that give us unprecedented access and make so many tasks more convenient than ever. But our eyes and our brains need a break now and then. It’s really a treat to yourself to unplug and recalibrate!