What you need to know about managing your data as a student

This is one subject we usually don’t think about until we have an unfortunate incident. Do any of the following sound unfortunately familiar?

  • Your computer crashes and you loose all your work
  • The information you found on a public computer only saved to the computer’s D drive and not your thumb drive
  • One hour before your assignment was due Endnote and Word glitched and you managed to delete half of your assignment, and it wouldn’t come back
  • The SD card with your favourite photos is lost.
  • Your portable hard drive dies and you can’t recover the files on it
  • Data on floppy discs 
  • Obsolete operating systems?

Data management is all about ensuring the above scenarios don’t happen to you. Some commonly recommended measures to ensure the longevity of your data:

Back up active files on your PC regularly – daily or hourly 

Word’s auto recover feature is great, but if you’re using a non-Office program, or your whole computer crashes, or the file becomes corrupted it isn’t going to help you. 
We recommend that you back up data onto a thumb drive, external hard drive or cloud storage system (e.g. Dropbox, Google Drive, etc). 
  • Your best option is to use a device/software that automatically back ups files in another location, so you should always have two relatively up-to-date copies of active files. 

Backing up Image files, videos and other large file types

Photos taken on a standard digital camera are saved onto SD cards. SD cards are usually reliable and should remain functional for 10 years. Their lifespan can be limited by erasing/rewriting data, but this is only going to occur after thousands of erase/rewrite cycles.
However, SD cards are tiny and easily lost, and data may become irretrievable due to data inactivity (i.e. the card not being used) or exposure to extreme temperatures or radiation.

  • External hard drives can be used as an alternative, but they are not reliable for long term storage, and may sometimes fail without any warning.
  • Uploading images to a cloud storage facility may ensure backups of large files are done automatically, but upload speeds may be substantially slower than download speeds and the amount available to upload under your internet plan may be restrictive, meaning this option is not always practical. You also need to consider that sometimes cloud storage businesses go out of business, taking your files with them.
  • The best long term storage device: manual back ups onto DVDs and print out your photos. Old fashioned, we know, and still not indestructible (scratches, direct sunlight and high temperatures can compromise data retrievable), but the best long term option. Archival gold CD-R discs are the best option. A thin reflective layer of gold prevents oxygen from corroding the silver reflective layer, the main issue of data degradation on regular CDs. Depending on brand, gold CD-R discs are claimed to safely store data for between 100 to 300 years.

A final note on storing data: Accessibility

Backing up data onto other devices, onto the cloud and other locations still is not going to assist in data being retained if the file types and the systems needed to access the data become obsolete. This is already an issue with many types of research data created in non-Microsoft software and data stored on floppy discs. Know anyone who has a computer with a floppy disc reader these days?
Some issues to consider for long term data storage:
– choose what to keep . Good storage will cost money and effort
– periodically copy data to a new storage device and check it is still accessible and not corrupted
– as needed migrate data to new software formats
– keep more than one copy
– consider keeping one copy of data in pdf format (one of the most durable and accessible formats)
– consider keeping information about your data, for example what is contained in the file, why it was created, who has an interest in the data. 
CSU and the Library are proud supporters of Research Data Australia (RDA), a web-based portal for the reuse of Australian research data.