I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I’ve started using GitHub. I thought about using it a few days before I really started. And the final bit of motivation came from the fact that I’m working on a few papers with more than two authors. Which means, it’s much easier if we don’t have to worry about who’s writing what and when.
If you haven’t used GitHub or don’t know what it is, it’s a version control system. Well, Git is a version control system. And GitHub is a website which will host your repositories for you. And it includes pretty easy instructions on how to use as well as a nice application that means you don’t have to learn and memorize all the git commands for committing and updating and merging files together.
If you sign up for an student account, you can host 5 free private repositories. I believe you can always host unlimited public ones. If I understand the site correctly, I believe they only count if you are the one who created it – so if someone else adds you as a collaborator to their private repository, it doesn’t count as one of your five.
The private is pretty key, if you’re going to end up using it for any of your research, since I doubt you want others finding drafts of your paper and then claiming it as their own. Right now, I’m using four of my accounts – a few papers + my related work stuff I talked about on Friday. When the papers are finished (eventually submitted, accepted and published – fingers crossed), I’ll remove those repositories, so that I can free up space.
As I ended up reformatting my computer this weekend (it was acting… odd), it was another reminder why things like version control and backups are absolutely essential. I didn’t have to worry about loosing any information – especially a draft of a paper or all of those recently read paper summaries.
Since I haven’t been using GitHub for long, (and only for pretty basic stuff, learning new stuff as I need to know it) I can’t provide much help in getting started besides suggesting that you read through all of their documentation. However, I know over at ProfHacker they recently had a post on resources for GitHub so I suggest heading there.
A final point, is that if you write all your papers using Word, you may not find it as helpful as it could be. Version control software works better on files that can be easily compared, like the latex .tex files.