Picture this: you are in the fourth year of your PhD. You have written six chapters of your thesis. You have finished your statistical analysis. You are putting the finishing touches on your Interspeech conference presentation. You are drafting the final chapters of your thesis. The finish line is in sight. A virus reformats your computer. Or a power surge kills your laptop. Or your hard drive dies. Or...
Backing up is very, very, very important. But you have to be smart. When you are working on an important document, such as a thesis, you will inevitably make numerous revisions. Do not save over your original file. Why? Imagine that you are working on thesis.doc, and as you are saving the document Word crashes and the file is corrupted. If you sync your files between devices, this corrupted file will overwrite your older, non-corrupted file because it was edited last and is therefore newer or more up-to-date. Bad news: you no longer have a working version of your thesis. Don't reach for a gun; instead save incremental versions (use Save As, not Save). For example, thesis01.doc, thesis02.doc, thesis03.doc, and so on. If thesis03.doc becomes corrupted, at least you will have a working version of thesis02.doc to fall back on, and will only lose some (not all) of your work.
Make backing up easy for yourself. Keep all of your important files in one folder. I have a folder called 2007, with all my 2007 work. Every day before I go home, I sync the 2007 folder on my laptop with the 2007 folder on my USB flash drive. When I get home, I sync 2007 folder on my USB flash drive with my home PC. This means that every day my files are saved to three places. Of course this is not enough. Every week I save my work using other storage devices.
Here are seven backup options that I came up with. Choose five of them, and you'll be safe:
0. Your original files are on your hard drive (this doesn't count).
1. USB flash drive (also called USB key, pen drive, thumb drive, whatever) - Buy a good USB flash drive. Use it every day.
2. Communal external hard disk - Each postgraduate student room has an external hard disk. Use it.
3. Drive U: - You have 2GB of storage space. Keep an updated copy of your important documents there (not your sound or video files).
4. Home PC - Not everyone owns a home computer. Those who do should use it as a backup device.
5. Recordable media (CD or DVD) - MARCS laptops come with Nero. Burn a copy of your important files to CD or DVD. If you use a re-writable disk, you can use the same disk over and over again.
6. Online storage - There are many sites that allow you to store your files online. My favourite is Box.net because it's fast, but there are heaps of them. Find one that you like and use it.
7. Email attachments - Chances are that you email documents to your supervisor fairly regularly. Different versions of your files are probably sitting (as attachments) in your Sent Mail. This isn't really backing up, but it can save you in an emergency.