(Apologies to The Clash for the mangling of the song title.)
Today I am cleaning out my office, and deciding what I can recycle, what needs to be left for the person replacing me, and what I need to haul off to my new office.

I’m finding lots of stuff that is difficult to classify. Should I save that 1995 rejected NSF grant that was approved, but not funded? I might want to re-submit it….someday. Then there’s the 18 years of student teaching evaluations. They are quite good…but do I need to save them all?

Since I am in a term position that might–or might not–be renewed in 3 years, I am leaning towards saving it all. But, DAMN, it’s a lot of stuff!

And what do I do with all the paper copies of papers I’ve cited, or plan to cite someday. Do I chuck them and decide to just hunt them down electronically in the future? I don’t have them all indexed.

Lastly, I am leaving behind books–again–which is always difficult. But it’s probably a good thing I move periodically, since otherwise I’d cart a million books around with me.

Any thoughts or advice from other scientists?
And how long do you keep your data from old work that’s been published? Forever? 10 yrs?

Posted by Gwen Pearson

Writer. Nerd. Insect Evangelist. Have you heard the good news? BUGS!


  1. save it all – this coming not from a scientist, but a pack rat :) You never know when you’ll need it!

  2. Tough call. I’ve got piles of old books and old papers crammed in my closet that I keep because I might need a reference ‘someday’. In my current job, I don’t need to know how to do a quadratic equation, or trigonometry. But the day may come that I need to, and since it’s been years since I’ve done it, I don’t always remember how.

    How nice it is to have an old text book lying around, in case you suddenly need to know the atomic weight of Bolognium or something. You never know when something like that’s going to come up on Final Jeopardy.

    But then you’ve got a pile of crap that you never touch for years. And you intend to sort through it and decide what you want to keep, but never quite get around to it. And then your spouse threatens to throw it all out if you don’t do something with it soon, and you’re like *AHHHHHHHHHHHH!*

    So, yeah. Decide what is absolutely essential to keep, and either donate or burn the rest. That’s what I’d do. That’s what I should do, if I ever get around to it.

  3. I’d only keep teaching evaluations from the last 3 years. Put the rest in the shredder and recycle it. Keep the papers though, you might have important annotations on them that you might want to have someday. Just get a bigger file cabinet or another one for stuff you likely won’t use often.

    Can stock any underfunded local libraries in your area with those books? They can sell them at book fairs to raise money too.

    I would definitely keep data too, you just never know! You can put in that file cabinet for not-often-used stuff.

  4. “Everything should be kept. I regret everything I’ve ever thrown away.” — Richard Hell.

    But then again, you already knew I felt that way. :)

  5. As much as I like his music, I do believe that Mr. Hell is giving bad advice in this instance.

    I have no specific advice, as I’m in a very different line of work from you. I work in software QA, and when I moved offices recently, almost all the old stuff I found was useless: CD-ROMs with installers for Japanese Windows 2000 and French Windows ME, a Zip disk (I have no drive to read these evil things, nor would I know where to find one, nor would I want to), stacks of floppies, obselete Mac-only monitor cables, etc.

  6. I’m no scientist, but as my friend refers to me, a recovering engineer. For what it’s worth:

    “If you realized that the nurtured spiritual part of yourself would accompany you on your eternal journey and that everything that you have labored so hard to accumulate would vanish the instant you depart this world, would it alter your daily agenda?”
    – Walter Cooper

  7. oh heck, if it was up to me, I’d chuck nearly all of it! I just don’t want to have someone ask to see my thesis data 20 years from now and not be able to produce it.

    (although, most of the actual data is on small floppies, which means it’s pretty much gone anyway.)

  8. […] data sets/ copies of journal articles/ contracts/ professional reviews/ semi-legal correspondence? Bug Girl also did this recently, and I noticed that she never did post her final analysis … […]

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