Writing therapy – Part III

This one should be called: When the Cloud bites you in the arse.

When I hear the term “digital nomad”, I oftentimes associate that with the modern scientist: The times are over when science was done in a cosy laboratory, and research notes were written into a big heavy book by candle light. Especially in the life sciences, it seems that i-products have become the norm as research tools. There’s a desktop machine in the lab. Maybe there’s another one at home. There’s a laptop for travels and presentations, and the occasional frantic grant writing in airport lounges. There’s a tablet for reading the literature and taking notes in seminars. Phone cameras are easily at hand and often written information is no longer copied, but just photographed. And, hell, my sequencing machine even has an iPod dock. Science has become fully digital.

While it’s great that all these “tools” have become affordable and intuitive to use, there’s the problem of syncing. How can you ensure that all information is up-to-date across all your machines? And there is the problem of sharing: How can you easily make files available for viewing or even co-authoring? Of course, we all know the answer: Cloud services.

Most of my team use at least one or many of the following: Google Mail, Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote, iCloud, etc. Occasionally, I even get research updates via messaging services. We rely on this primarily because the University can’t offer similar functionality, and even if it would, it would not be compatible with our range of i-products. Is my team special? I dare say no. Sharing Dropbox folders for research data is frowned upon by many funding bodies, but it is happening everywhere.

So that’s all great as long as it works. Or better: as long as there is somebody who knows their login credentials. At this stage, it is my guess-timate that 80% of the information in regards to how our wet lab is organised and at what stage various long-term experiments are, is sitting in an Evernote database. That’s for a reason: They have understood that it’s not intuitive and automatic to organise things according to text files, spreadsheets, pictures etc all in separate folders, but that people like to save it unstructured and still be able to create meaningful searches and filters. Unfortunately, in our case, this stack (an Evernote term) was in my lab manager’s personal account. We had often discussed that it would be ideal to share that stack, but for some reason that’s never happened – I did not enforce that strongly enough. My top tip now: If you allow your team the use of Cloud services, make sure they hand you over an envelope with their login credentials for the day that nobody wants to see. (Or, in fact, as Evernote write in their Privacy Statement, make sure they list your name in their will with specific reference to getting access to Evernote stacks).

While I’m happy to take most of the blame for this digital mismanagement, there’s something that would indeed make my life easier: A University credit card so I can pay for digital services more easily. Almost everyone in my team uses Evernote and we should probably long have upgraded to professional accounts that (*drumroll*) allow note sharing and editing. The same goes for Dropbox. More space, more functionality, more security (in terms of management), but it’s a royal pain in the bum to register for these services for a humble university user without institutional Paypal account or credit card.

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