I’m spending this academic year in Athens, Greece. (Why yes, you should be envious.) It’s easy to get distracted from work, but here are some tools that help me continue my research as usual even when off-campus.
The U-M Virtual Private Network (VPN). The U-M VPN connects your computer to the university’s network, both helping keep your connection secure and allowing you to use any web-based resources just like you would on the U-M campus. Since the VPN connects you to a U.S.-based network, it also allows you to access resources that are only available in the U.S. when you are abroad. Click here for more information.
U-M Virtual Sites. There are several computer programs such as SPSS or ArcGIS that U-M computers have and which I need for my research every now and then. When on campus, I would simply swing by one of the computer labs to use those programs. Fortunately, you can use them off-campus as well, through U-M’s Virtual Sites. It allows you to log in to a U-M campus computer and use it remotely on your computer. I do have one complaint: ever since U-M transitioned into AppsAnywhere, which is similar to running a program in a virtual environment, the “virtual machine inside a virtual machine” aspect has caused my computer to struggle. So I advise that you close any programs you don’t need while using Virtual Sites and be patient as applications load. See here for details.
BlueJeans or Skype. To be honest, my advisor and I use Skype, but I really like BlueJeans because it seems less prone to cutting off or other glitches. The app also makes conference calls easy and allows people to call in from their phones at no cost. Click here for more information on BlueJeans.
U-M Box or Dropbox. Especially when doing fieldwork, one of my big concerns is losing data due to unexpected scenarios like my apartment flooding, the local electric grid sending a surge to fry my laptop, or my USB stick ending up in Australia with my luggage instead of Greece. (These, by the way, are all scenarios that have happened to me, although luckily with no data loss so far!) For that reason, I now sync all of my dissertation files with my Dropbox account. This way, I can work on my files on my laptop as usual and don’t need to worry about manually backing anything up. I also use U-M Box to back up all of the work I do on a U-M fieldwork project (at Olynthos). I find the system handy when it comes to sharing materials with a larger team and accessing my files from different laptops and locations. See here for information on U-M Box, and here for information on Dropbox.