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From the Archives

Lessons from the Move

Sarah Rovang

It has been a big month of life lessons. A few weeks ago, my husband and I sold all of our furniture besides our mattress, condensed our worldly possessions into our car and a friend's truck and headed west. While my husband starts a postdoc at a new institution this week, I'm transitioning back into writing mode and slowly unwinding after the move. 

Moving out of state is a huge transition regardless of career path, but moving during dissertation writing poses its own set of challenges. You are not only moving physical stuff but moving data and information—ideally in a way that allows you to get up and running with the writing process in a timely and efficient fashion. 

Backing Up Data and Going Paperless

We decided to scan the vast majority of our paper documents before moving. We used ScannerPro (the app that I think of as the official sponsor of my dissertation) and a Canon feeder scanner in tandem. For items like cards, archival documents, or anything with an uneven surface that could not go through the scanner, we set up a camera stand with a Glif attached so we didn't have to hold an iPhone while scanning. The scanner was great for long documents like old papers and syllabi that I hadn't kept but wanted at least a PDF copy of.  

That said, if we had to do it all over again, I would definitely invest in a shredder and start the project a little earlier. Currently, we have a ton of unnamed PDFs that we will eventually have to go through and sort, which will be its own kind of project.

In the new house, I am attempting to plan better at the outset for storing papers and documents: 

  • Important Records and Documents - The majority of these are going into a vertical file box with labeled files ("Car," "School Transcripts," etc.). The really important things (birth certificates, marriage certificate, passports) are going into a separate zip envelope that can be (hopefully) grabbed quickly in case of emergency.
  • Archival Material for Dissertation - Sometimes I buy archival materials off of eBay or other sites. Since I work with a lot of ephemera, it can be inexpensive and quick to get items I need in this way. These will be stored in a large, flat box in a climate-controlled part of the house.  
  • Papers of Sentimental Value - Cards that my husband and I have sent each other or received are all in the process of being scanned. Only the really special, handmade ones get to stay, and those will live in a box similar to that used for the archival materials. 

One final proviso: make sure to back up your dissertation. I recently had to ship my laptop across the country for reasons unrelated to the move and before I did, I performed the following back-ups:

  • DropBox/GoogleDrive/iCloud - I made sure my dissertation was in the cloud in addition to hard storage.
  • External Hard Drive - I saved my dissertation and the bulk of my important materials to an durable external drive that was shipped in a box separate from my laptop. 
  • USB Stick - I put all of my text and images on a USB drive and left it at my parents' house in case all of the other systems failed. Maybe overkill, but I wish I had done something similar during this most recent move! 

Shipping Books 

Many of our grad school friends have shipped using USPS Media Mail without incident and found it to be surprisingly reasonable and speedy. So we packed up the majority of our books into crisp, new cardboard boxes from OfficeMax, sealed them with standard packing tape, and sent them on their way. When they arrived at our new address, the vast majority of the books had been repacked into new boxes with sturdier tape. One of the boxes that we had used was included as   as an example of the fate of the others. The empty box was virtually decimated: smushed, cracked, bedraggled, and missing its top. Many of the books that had been repackaged were in varying states of disrepair - some missing covers, others with crinkled and dirty pages. A large number of books were simply missing, though perhaps for consolation, we also received some media that wasn't ours, including a novel in Spanish, a few magazines on wrestling, and a children's life sciences text book. A number of the missing books did show up about a week later, but we are still lacking quite a few. What did we learn from this? 

  1. Make a List - Record the titles of the books you ship in case any have to be replaced. We neglected to do this which has left us in a state of wondering which books we have forgotten about.
  2.  Pack Well - Use WAY more tape than seems necessary.
  3. Get Insurance - Media Mail, unlike other types of USPS shipping does not include any kind of baseline insurance.

Overall, I am extremely satisfied with how the move went and these are relatively minor quibbles. Now I'm on to the next project: setting up my home writing space!