In yesterday’s post, I talked about my motivations for seeking a new system for backing up lab notebooks and data sheets. Here, I describe the system we’re now using for backing up lab notebooks, data sheets, etc. I think it’s working well. At the end, I ask for suggestions of systems that work for backing up files on lab members’ laptops, which I think we could do a better job of.
- I bought a lab iPad. One of the concerns I’d had with our old system was that it relied on people in the lab using their own smartphones. Now, there’s a lab iPad for everyone to use. It’s in a handy blue case that hopefully will protect it to some extent; our lab uses lots and lots and lots of water!
The iPad I bought is just a wifi-enabled one. But, if our fieldwork wasn’t local, I might have gone with a cellular-enabled one to allow easy data backup in the field.
- We created a lab AppleID and linked that to the iPad.
- We created a lab Google Drive account and linked that to the iPad. We also considered a lab Box account, since Michigan has links with both Google Drive and Box. They seemed roughly equivalent to me, and I decided to go with Google Drive for no particular reason. This required help from my IT folks so we could have it as an @umich.edu account.
- I loaded a scanner app on the iPad. I used the ScannerPro app, based on Elizabeth’s recommendation, though someone else recommended CamScanner, which seems pretty equivalent. Other notes:
- I didn’t want to link my credit card (or anyone else’s!) to the lab AppleID, so I gifted the ScannerApp (which was only a few dollars) to the lab AppleID from my personal account. (Many thanks to Elizabeth for suggesting this workaround!)
- We set the ScannerApp up so that files that get scanned automatically connect with our lab Google Drive account. Each lab member has a different file, and they can add new “pages” on to the end of their lab notebook as they do more work. An advantage to this system is that datasheets can be integrated right into the lab notebook file in sequential order. It would also be possible to add in, say, a picture showing an important observation or phenomenon.
- We trained the lab in how to use it. My technician Katie was the first one to really use ScannerApp, scanning in various lab notebooks. She scanned in various lab notebooks, then gave the lab an overview at a lab meeting:
- I check in with the lab about whether they are updating their files. I am planning on making this a section of the mentoring plans that I do with the lab. We update those three times a year but, based on travel and other unusual circumstances, our summer updates are somewhat delayed this year. So, I recently emailed my lab members:
I’m writing to check in to make sure you’re all backing up your lab notebooks, data sheets, and electronic data files. We have a lab iPad and scanner app that should make backing up of lab notebooks and data sheets straightforward. If you don’t know how to use that, please let me know and we’ll help you out!
Please reply to this email to let me know:
- If your lab notebooks and data sheets are all currently backed up using the lab iPad + scanner app + google drive system.
- If the answer to 1 is no, please let me know when you anticipate having everything backed up by and if there’s something you need help with.
- If all your excel files, R code, etc. that you use for data analysis, word files with manuscript drafts, etc. are in at least two locations (one of which can be the cloud). The system I use for my files leads to them all being on my laptop, desktop, and in the cloud. Ideally, you’d also have a way of retrieving an older version of a file in case something gets messed up.
- If the answer to “3” is no, let me know if you need help with setting up a system and what your plan is for getting things backed up. Hard drives can be expected to last 3-5 years (plus laptops are prone to being stolen or misplaced) so it’s super important to have everything backed up!
I think that some people will keep things backed up well without reminders, but that others might need more prodding. So, I’ve set that email to reappear in my inbox in 3 months so that I remember to check in with everyone (plus plan on checking in when updating mentoring plans, as I said above.)
Future directions & request for suggestions
I think this new system is sufficiently user friendly that, with periodic check-ins to remind people about the importance of backing everything up, I think this system should work for backing up the lab notebooks and data sheets. And the lab computer (which has all our photomicrographs on it, along with several really important data files) has a good backup system on it, including a system (CrashPlan) that archives past versions of file.
The main thing that I want to improve in the future is the system (and culture) we have regarding data files, R code, manuscript files, etc. that people work on on their personal computers. Right now, my lab is using a hodgepodge of approaches – some rely on their Dropbox accounts, some use GitHub, and several rely on external harddrives for backups (though, with the latter, if the external harddrive and laptop are in the same place for a non-trivial amount of time, water damage or fire damage or theft to/of one might easily occur to the other, so I don’t view this as an ideal backup system).
So, this post was motivated both by 1) wanting to share a lab notebook backup system that has worked well for my lab in case it helps other labs (I’ve seen others ask on twitter, too!), and 2) wanting to find out how other labs deal with the files that are on lab members’ laptops. I’d love to hear ideas!