As a university graduate
With students getting ready to go back to schools and universities, I thought it would be a good idea to share some of my best tech tips that I wished I knew when I was a student.
These tech tips will work well for students of all ages and if you are a university student, it doesn’t really matter if you’re well into your degree or just starting out.
For those of you who are unaware, I studied an undergraduate degree in computing, focusing on software development and the business side of things as well as a master’s degree in business computing. Alongside my degree, I worked at my universities IT department where I got involved in many cool projects as well as providing IT support to staff and students.
The reason I’m mentioning that is because as someone who worked within the education sector, I’ve picked up a thing or two from the students as well as the staff members perspective. I’ve seen some cool apps and tools being used as well as found out the things that don’t work.
I also wanted to mention that while the title says, “Tech Tips for Students”, these can be used by anyone so whether you are working or studying, these will work for you!
So, without further ado, here are my tech tips for students and not only…
Tip 1: Create a storage system that works for you!
As a student, you will be storing digital files, be it Word documents, PowerPoints or even pictures. You need an effective way of storing these files. In this part of my article, I will discuss the highly effective system I used that not only backed up my work but also made it available across my devices.
Use Cloud Storage
One of the first tips, I have is to check whether your school or university offers cloud storage for your work. Both of the universities I attended offered the Office 365 Suite which provided me with over 1TB of cloud storage as well as the Microsoft Office Software Package free.
That’s a lot of storage! As you’ve guessed it, I used OneDrive as my primary storage location. I saved everything into my OneDrive and worked on my assignments from it. There is a huge benefit to this, which we’ll go into more detail later, but for context, it’s the autosave feature.
OneDrive can be accessed from various places including the browser, your file manager (Explorer on Windows and Finder on MacOS), and your phone and tablet. This allows you to access your work from anywhere!
Use a folder structure that works
It’s important to have your files organised in a structure that works, it’s no good just storing your files in the root directory of your cloud, laptop or even worse, USB Stick! You need to have a structure in place.
I stored my university work on my university OneDrive account and in the root directory, I created a folder for every module including the module code and name. In each module folder, I had a series of folders called Research, Literature, Assignment Work, Pictures, Videos, Documents and for every week I created a new folder e.g. Week 1 – Getting Started With AWS.
The picture above shows the exact method I used to structure my work.
HAVE A BACKUP PROCEDURE!!!
I can’t stress this enough! The number of times people including myself have lost work is just unreal. You need to be prepared for failure because it does happen, and it happens more often than you think!
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I worked at a universities IT department, and I think it’s fair to say that I’ve seen it all! From snapped memory sticks, to malfunctioning hard drives in laptops and corrupt storage devices. These things happen more often than you can imagine.
That’s why the principles I live by till this day is “You can’t call it a backup until you have at least 3 copies” and that’s something I recommended to all staff and students and still recommend it till this day. The trick is that each copy needs to be on a separate storage device and the main copy does not count.
So, if you are using OneDrive as your main copy, that does not count as a backup, you need to save it in three other locations. For example, an external hard drive, a secondary cloud storage service and a memory stick.
I am fully aware that this is overkill, but at the end of the day of you are spending over 9K per year in tuition, which is something we do in the UK, you going to want that work to be as safe as possible.
OneDrive itself, is a great place to store your files in the first place because as your institute is paying for it, they are going to do everything possible to keep your data safe. However, there may be times when you can’t access your drive, maybe because you don’t have any internet access, it’s good to have a physical copy too!
Initially, I stored everything onto my OneDrive and then at the end of each day, I copied everything onto a memory stick and into my Google Drive (or a second memory stick). At the end of the week, I copied everything from my memory stick onto a portable hard drive.
With storage devices, I recommend going with reputable brands such as SanDisk and Seagate because whilst the other smaller brands may be good too, you want to buy from known brands when it comes to your university work. I recommend getting this twin pack Sandisk Ultra 32GB set as that will give you two backup locations. For the hard drive, I recommend getting one with at least 500GB, but 1TB is cheap enough. The hard drive I recommend is the Toshiba Canvio Basics 1TB, which is the model I used throughout both of my degrees, and it still works well today.
Tip 2: Don’t rely on USB Memory Sticks!
In the previous tip I talked about backing up to your memory sticks. But what you must understand, and I can’t stress this enough is that your main copy should never be on your memory sticks!
Memory sticks were designed as a means of moving work from one device to another and for backing up, they weren’t really intended for keeping main copies of data. There are several reasons for this, the big one being that they are easy to lose.
The second reason is that they are easy to damage and all it takes is a single swing of your chair and you can hit it by accident snapping it in half, especially if you are using a computer tower that is sitting on the floor.
Memory sticks can also get corrupt very easily! You know that argument about always safely ejecting your drive, turns out that it’s true. The amount of time’s I’ve seen people pull these things out whilst data is still copying, or processing is just unreal. This causes all sorts of corruption.
When buying memory sticks, don’t just go for the cheapest one, buy from a repayable store and brand such as Kingston or Sandisk, there is a huge amount of fake USB drives that are out there that are advertising to have over 256GB of storage space for under £10, these are most likely fake drives that are actually 16GB or less but have been modified to show something like 1TB. What often happens with these drives, is once they reach a certain storage limit, they will start overwriting your data without telling you.
A straightforward way to tell if the device is fake or has issues is if it states the exact amount of storage space that is advertised on the packaging, as that’s not genuine how these drives work, genuine drives will always have less than advertised. This article by Michael Zhang for PetaPixel, explains why this is.
Tip 3: It doesn’t have to be brand new!
When you start university, you tend to buy everything new, including your laptop. But the truth of the matter is that your any tech item such as your laptop doesn’t have to be brand new. I certainly didn’t start with a brand new one laptop!
You can save a lot of money by getting a second-hand. If you are in the market for a laptop, I tend to recommend getting an ex-business laptop as from experience, they are built to last.
I started my undergraduate degree with a second-hand Toshiba Z50 which I purchased on eBay. I can’t remember the exact price I paid for it, but I’m certain it was under £130 with delivery. Spec wise, it wasn’t the highest performer, but it had a 500GB hard drive, 4GB of memory and an Intel i5 processor which for back then was reasonable for student work.
Naturally being a computing student, I upgraded it to a faster solid-state drive ang 8GB of memory which improved the performance drastically. From memory, the upgraded components cost me around £60, and I purchased an enclosure for the old hard drive to turn it into a portable hard drive.
After having a scroll through eBay, I found many laptops that have already been upgraded to match those specs for a similar price, so you don’t have to worry about upgrading it yourself.
There are a few things you should be aware off before taking this route and the main thing is the warranty. In the UK when you buy a new device you usually get at least a 1-year warranty but with second-hand devices you don’t necessarily get any warranty unless stated otherwise.
If you do decide to try the second-hand route, I recommend having a look at CEX where they offer you a 24-month warranty and you can actually find some surprisingly good bargains, and no, I’m not sponsored by CEX.
A few months ago, I picked up a set of Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 for around £80 in pristine condition. That was a great find, especially as a new set will set you back around £240 at the time of writing this article.
Tip 4: Get a tablet
Moving on to my fourth tip, I highly recommend getting a tablet to help you along with your studies. I started my degree with a Samsung Galaxy Tab S2, which was an excellent tablet, I then moved on to a standard iPad followed by the iPad Pro which I use till this day.
I found that when it comes to research, the iPad just works better due to the apps available, such as Good Notes and the Command Browser. I used both of my iPads with an Apple Pencil which allowed me to annotate eBooks and more without making real books. If you do decide to buy an Apple pencil, make sure that it is compatible with your device as I had to buy two models.
My tablet was my everything, I used it to store and read books for assignments, I used it as a second screen for my laptop. I did this by simply writing on my laptop and doing research on the actual tablet. It just made life so much easier.
As I purchased an Apple Pencil, I also used it as a notebook for taking notes in class. My favourite app was Good Notes and I used it for most of my class notes.
To make writing on an iPad even easier, I highly recommend purchasing a Paper Like screen protector which makes writing on your iPad just so much more enjoyable.
Tip 5: Use Notion to organise your work!
When I first discovered Notion as a student, I instantly fell in love with it. It allowed me to manage my work making it easier to conduct research. I uploaded my notes to it, managed my time and assignments in it, it was just incredible.
I initially started using OneNote for the exact same reason, but Notion just worked so much better.
Notion has several useful features built-in which allow you to stay on top of things as a student. Firstly, you can use it to manage your assignments. Using Notion, I was able to convert my assignment brief into tasks. I used Kanban view for this, and it really improved my overall workflow.
Notion is great for research as you can have everything in one place. For example, under one of my modules I was able to open a page for a specific topic where I uploaded my class notes as well as academic articles I found online. This made it much easier to write assignments based on research I done before.
Tip 6: Create a comfortable working environment
Whether you are living in student accommodation, living at home, or staying with friends, it is extremely important to setup a comfortable working environment. Here are some of my recommendations.
Get an external monitor
Getting an external monitor was one of the best things I ever done in my early student setup. I got my monitor for around £30 at my local cash converters and while it was old, it was still worth it.
I recommend getting a HDMI compatible monitor, as you can easily connect it to your laptop using a single HDMI cable.
If you prefer to get a new monitor, I currently use two of the BenQ GW2475H 24-Inch monitors with IPS and Eye-Care technology built-in. I’ve been using them for a while now and couldn’t recommend the model enough. Just bear in mind that if you plan to purchase more than one monitor for your laptop, you may need a docking station.
The rest of your setup
As for the rest of your setup, to be able to sit comfortably at your desk, I recommend getting a wireless mouse and keyboard set such as the Logitech MK270 desk set. Not only is a bigger, but an external keyboard also more comfortable to type on for extended periods of time. It also helps with your posture if you are using your laptop on one side with your monitor on the other.
Three optional products I would recommend checking out is an external webcam if you will be having lectures online, a laptop stand and a printer.
Personally, I’m a huge fan of Logitech products, therefore for the webcam, I would recommend the Logitech C270 which is a very reasonable webcam. If you want to go for something fancier, I recommend going with the legendary C920.
If you want to buy a printer, I recommend going with HP printers such as the HP DeskJet 3760, which not only saves space, but is also compatible with HP Instant Ink which is the big seller for me. It’s a monthly payment plan where they send you the cartridges when they become low on ink.
There are two things to bear in mind before purchasing a printer, the first thing is that your university will provide printing and the second thing is that when staying in halls, your WiFi provider may block these types of printer, which means that you will need to connect it to a hotspot on your phone.
Tip 7: Get Amazon Prime Student!
My final tip is to get an Amazon Prime Student subscription which as a qualifying student, you can get FREE FOR 6 MONTHS if you are a new member, otherwise it’s only £4.49 per month or £47.49 for the entire year!
I found Amazon Prime Student extremely useful during my time at university because not only did it come with free next day delivery on prime purchases, but it also provided Prime Video, Prime Music, discounts on textbooks and other student deals.
It was easily one of the best investments I made whilst at university and it saved me on so many occasions such as when my laptop charger broke.
You can sign up to Amazon Prime student using the link down below, and you will be supporting Tech With Dom if you use the link down below.
Those were my tech tips for students and not only. If you have any tips, let us know in the comments!
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