Computer Security and Dissertations

November 30th is Computer Security Day. What does computer security have to do with you dissertation? Plenty. Read on, grasshopper…

Aside from your actual brain, your computer represents the single biggest point of failure in the dissertation process. For many students, if their computer suddenly disappeared, so would every bit of research, notes, and writing pertaining to their dissertation. For some, this represents many months of work!

One of my students a few years ago first came to me after she lost her dissertation. Her name was Gina, and she kept her laptop on a desk in her home office, which was located at one end of her house. Gina realized that a computer’s hard drive can fail, so she backed her work up regularly on a USB flash drive. Pretty smart.

She kept the flash drive in her desk drawer. And, everytime she worked on her dissertation, she saved her work to her computer and her flash drive. Gina was very diligent about this.

So, why am I telling you this story? Because Gina’s house caught fire; actually not her house, it was her neighbors house. But, the heat and flames from next door caused one wall in her office to warp and smolder. Which wall? You guessed it… the wall where her desk, computer, and flash drive were!

In a previous life I worked in a large investment bank. Our disaster recovery considered 3 primary things: equipment failure, facility failure, and localized castrophe.

For your dissertation, equipment failure would be something like your computer’s hard drive crashing. Gina was covered for this. If her hard drive failed, she’d need to replace the hard drive or the computer. But then she could simply copy all of her files from her flash drive, and she’s back in business.

Unfortunately for Gina, she was not covered for facility failure. When she lost her home office, she lost everything pertaining to her dissertation. In her case, it was just about the least damage a facility could sustain that would result in a loss of her dissertation. But, truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction.

Gina could have taken her flash drive to work each day and copied onto a second drive that she kept there. In that way, if she lost her home with her computer and her flash drive, then she would still have another copy of her dissertation. I know it’s horrible to think about losing one’s home, but would you rather lose your home or your home and your dissertation?

This strategy would have protected Gina from facility loss, but what if a storm or earthquake severely damaged her town? She could lose her home and workplace meaning that her dissertation would be gone. This is why the final layer of protection is to have and indpendent backup in a different geographical location. Not just down the street, but in another city or state, preferrably across the country.

Gina’s loss was terrible for her. She had to reconstruct months of work from memory, which more or less meant starting over. With our guidance she was able to recover in much less time than it took the first time around, but it was still a painful process.

Luckily for you, it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, in this day and age you can guarantee that your dissertation efforts are preserved against any threat below the level of a literal global catastrophe. Cloud servers and data storage are ubiquitous and cheap.

My favorite service is Dropbox. (I have no ties with Dropbox other than being a happy paying customer.) I mentioned before that these services are cheap. How about free? Is that cheap enough?

If you click the link above and scroll all the way to the bottom, there’s an option to get a free 2GB account, which takes you to a registration page here. Sign up and Dropbox will give you a free 2GB account! No pressure to buy anything ever. And, this free account is plenty sufficient your dissertation.

What I like about Dropbox is it’s set-it-and-forget-it functionality. You download a small app onto your computer that creates a “dropbox” folder. You save files to this folder just like you would any other folder on your computer. But, the files in this folder are magically copied to Dropbox’s cloud servers. They’re still on your computer, and you never have to deal with the cloud copy in any way.

But, if something happens to your computer, you can login to your Dropbox account through any web browser on any computer, and voila! Your dissertation is right there, and so are all the drafts, articles, and notes you’ve saved along the way.

So, in honor of Computer Security Day take 15 minutes to ensure that you never have to worry about losing even a week’s worth of work on your dissertation ever again. Should the worst happy, you’ll thank me for it!

If you need extra support and guidance to make it to graduation, I may be able to help. If you'd like to find out whether you qualify for the support we offer throughout the dissertation process, then...

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Dr. Russell W. Strickland

RUSSELL STRICKLAND, Ph.D., has been referred to as a “rocket scientist turned management consultant.” In truth, he applies an eclectic body of work from astronomy and nuclear physics to dynamic inventory management to market research to each of his student engagements.

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