In the olden days, way back when not everyone had a laptop, many students used research group, department, or university computer facilities. I was always buying computers: I provided a few computers for general use by my group, I bought desktop computers for postdocs to have in their offices, and I purchased a laptop or two for use by students and postdocs working on particular projects.
All that was fine, but I also had to pay the university a fee every month for network connections in the offices of my students and postdocs and in my lab, and also for the ones in my office, other than one 'free' port that the university provided for each professor. Faculty were not allowed to use funds from federal granting agencies to pay these network fees, presumably because this kind of thing was supposed to be covered by indirect costs (overhead), so we were always trying to get additional funds from sources that didn't have rules against paying for internet connections.
In theory, we were not even allowed to use hubs to make more efficient use of our network connections (e.g., for connecting to a printer), and there were always vague rumors that there would be inspections for hubs and we would be forced to relinquish them. We lived in fear.
If one of my postdocs or students were assigned space in an office that did not have a network connection, I also had to pay for the additional cost of having the university telecom people thread cables through the walls. In the deepest darkest part of this era, I felt like the department's hostile zombie administrative assistant was moving my research group members around to different offices each year so that I could pay for the networking of the building. Paying for installation of a network connection in an office did not guarantee that one of my students or postdocs would be put in that office the next time the office became vacant.
The point of all this reminiscing about ancient computer and internet history is to note the contrast with the situation today. I still buy postdocs desktop computers if they so require, I still keep some computers around in a research space for general use, and once in a while I buy a laptop on a grant and give it to a student to use, but I spend a lot less than I used to on computer and internet related costs and fees. Now there is no monthly fee for network use, wired or wireless, and most students have their own computers.
I suppose I have become complacent about my reduced commitment to providing computers and computer-related things for my group because I was taken aback recently when a grad student asked me if I would pay for the cost of getting his personal laptop repaired. He uses his laptop for research related computing, in addition to recreational uses. It is going to cost nearly as much as the price of a new laptop to recover the files from his crashed hard drive, which was not sufficiently backed up.
I don't have a budget line for paying for the repair of a student's personal computer, and I am not sure how I would pay for it even if I thought it was an appropriate expense.
Is it an appropriate expense? He uses the computer for his research, though I have no idea what the ratio of research : recreational use is, though I hope it is high. His not having his research files backed up has caused a delay of at least two months in finishing a manuscript that should have been submitted long ago, and I am annoyed by that.
The advisor-angel sitting on one shoulder tells me that maybe I should share the expense (somehow) because it is in the best interests of the student and his research project to help him fix this problem quickly. I benefit from the fact that most students acquire their own laptops, so perhaps I should share in the perils? The advisor-devil sitting on the other shoulder tells me that if this student had been using one of the computers I had purchased for my group, of course I would pay for any repairs, but why should I pay just because he didn't back up the data on his personal laptop? His co-advisor and I paid for the data to be acquired, and he had a responsibility to keep the data and other important files safe, for his own sake as well as for that of the research project as a whole.
At the moment, the advisor-angel's voice is very soft and intermittent -- perhaps she has a weak signal or a bad connection? -- but the advisor-devil's voice is loud and clear and uploading advice directly into my head.
6 days ago