Research Trips: Five Tips for Surviving the Worst-Case Scenario


This is a guest post by Leslie M. Waters, a Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow in European Studies at W&M.

I was recently on a research trip in Hungary when, three days into my two and a half month stay, my laptop, camera, and passport were stolen. Although the theft made my research trip much more difficult, it was not devastating and I was able to complete the research I had set out to do. By taking a couple of simple measures beforehand and asking for support from the academic community when I needed it, I survived my worst-case scenario.

1. Renters/Homeowners Insurance

The single most helpful factor in recovering from the theft was the fact that I had renters insurance in the United States. Most renters and homeowners policies cover possessions from your home even when you take them elsewhere. I notified my insurance company right away, submitted the police report, and was reimbursed for my losses in a matter of days.

2. Back Up Your Data

Backups are one of those things that seem unimportant until you need them. In my case, I backed up my research in two locations: on DVDs that I left at home and on an external hard drive I had with me in Hungary. The thieves didn’t take my hard drive, but even if they had, I would have had another backup waiting for me in Williamsburg. I recommend always keeping your external hard drive in a different location from your laptop.

3. Use Cloud Storage for Your Most Critical Documents

My research data consists of hundreds of gigabytes and therefore I don’t keep everything in the Cloud, but I had all my writing (article and manuscript drafts; archival notes; lectures) on Dropbox. Even though it took me a couple of months to replace my laptop, I was able to access my most critical documents at any time from a loaner computer.

4. Set Up a Login for Your Laptop


On a Mac you can set a login password for your computer in the Security & Privacy pane in the System Preferences.

One thing I wish I had done differently was set up a user login password for my laptop. The thief who has my laptop theoretically had access to any websites where I had passwords set to automatically login. A simple user login password would have prevented this vulnerability. I subsequently had to change all my preset passwords.

5. Ask for the Help Necessary to Salvage Your Research Trip

Research trips are expensive and often difficult to schedule and plan; I could not justify abandoning ship — I had to make the best of a difficult situation. I found that when I explained my problem to archivists and librarians, they often went out of their way to accommodate me and help me overcome some of the difficulties that arose from having my research equipment stolen. The Hungarian Fulbright Commission and U.S. Embassy were sympathetic and helped me replace my passport quickly. I also contacted my home department at William & Mary and my colleagues sent me my office laptop to use for the duration of my trip.