Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sunday conversation: when is it time for the dumpster?

When I was hired for my first industrial position, I threw all the papers from my postdoc in a box labeled "examine in one year" and that box got thrown on the moving truck. About two years later, I said to myself, "I oughta open this box up and throw out that stuff."

That box still resides in my garage. I'll probably throw it out this summer.

I was talking with a friend this weekend and he (of middle age) said, "I just threw out the notes from my graduate work."

So, how long do you keep this stuff? And how long should you keep this stuff? 

17 comments:

  1. At some point it become useful for historical purposes. Want to see my fortran card punch, or paper tapes? (former was my Dad's). Maybe you should send it all to the Division of the History of Chemistry? :-)

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  2. Scan them when you are free and save as ecopies? In that way, you never have to worry about when to dispose. And when the need arises, you always have them.

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  3. I keep everything worthwhile in digital format backed up in Dropbox and Google Drive. Back sides of paper printouts are normally used for notes and then get thrown away, usually no longer than in a week or two. I'm trying not to have 'to read' paper printouts, because it's never gonna happen. Sometimes I even feel happy when Firefox crashes and all the tabs are lost.

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  4. @Bernatv - I recently did the big purge of the basement and contemplated keeping all of my notes in digital format. However, after awhile, in my opinion, it just becomes junk - stuff that I will, in all probability, never use again. The notes/books (since undergrad years) have survived on the order of a dozen moves and never touched in between moves, except to be repacked for the next move. The recent purge was labeled "Feb 2003" and and the tape around the boxes was yellowed, brittle and definitely no sticky any longer. Honestly, I didn't want to pack them again for the next move -whenever that was going to be.

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    1. Reminds me of pretty much any academic lab :)

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  5. When I first got my industry job, I kept having great ideas for my post-doc work, but nothing to do with them so I just wrote them all down and put it in a folder. If its just topical papers, I could see chunking that. I'll keep my ideas and notes until I retire if possible, whether in paper or digital format. I'd like to teach at some point in my career, maybe advise some undergrad research.

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  6. I purged my PhD papers and notes about five years after I finished. Anything that could easily be found online (papers etc.) went into the Blue Box. My own notes got scanned and backed up, then went into the Blue Box. (The Blue Box was very full that week.) It was a liberating feeling. I now try to keep paper notes and printouts to a minimum.

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  7. Suggested theme music for cleanup of old papers and notes - Don Henley's "The Boys of Summer".

    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1yqje_don-henley-boys-of-summer_music

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  8. My PI still has his notebook, papers, notes, etc. from his PhD, postdoc, industry jobs, notebooks from his employees from his industry jobs, notebooks from his postdocs and students. I'm not sure if it is even legal/right to keep industry stuff with you. I think he will never throw them away.

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    1. Having notebooks from a previous employer can, at some companies, be grounds for summary termination. (Not me--the director of a department I had worked with, though.)

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  9. don't just dump it - pour in some EtOAc-hexane rotovap condensates on top (in fond memory of all the Friday evenings spent in front of a column), then set the dumpster on fire. Preferably in the driveway of your old research advisor

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  10. CJ; I have one in my office...some notebooks! These notebooks are filled up with all those structures are some 30+ years old at the time going to library on regular basis was the norm and taking notes was regular. I mean you are attached and not an easy decision.

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  11. I left mine in a state of semi organization at my desk in several drawers. I'm not sure there's much reason to keep papers around in an age where reaxys and scifinder exist. I still feel bad about my predilection to print things off. As for my notebook, it's electronic and backed up in several places so I'll have it even after I've got senile.

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  12. I had a simple solution, I kept everything in boxes in the basement, then the basement flooded and I had to throw them all out.

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  13. I'm toying with the idea of using my old grad school notes to write up a short paper and submit it to some obscure journal. I doubt my company would be on board with me publishing anything I'm working on now, and a publication would be good resume-padding, even if it's in the Ethiopian Journal of Chemistry or something like that.

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  14. Keep it until your grandchildren are old enough to be thinking about grad school. At which point you can pull out your yellowing, tear/sweat stained lab notebooks. Show them the places where your handwriting became unintelligible gibberish because you'd been awake 36 hours. Explain to them why you'd scrawled "[PI's Name] must die!!!] in the margins of one failed experiment. Show them the microscopic trace of solvent impurity in one of your NMRs, which your advisor took one look at and promptly told you to re-do it.

    Trust me. Your grandchildren will thank you.

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  15. CJ--Were you the PI for any of the funding for these projects? If so, you likely have some contractual obligations to see that certain records are preserved for some number of years.

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