Horror: Crash on field trip


afbeelding van schermbericht over Recovery

Tell us your horror story, what happened?

I went on a fieldwork trip to Tajikistan to do a study in the Pamir mountains. I prepared various materials which I was planning to use during my fieldwork trip which I stored on my laptop.

Once I arrived in Dushanbe, I found out that I was unable to start working. My computer would not start beyond the blue screen (see the photo below). The white text on the blue screen was saying “Your PC needs to be repaired”. I did not have any installation media, and I wasn’t at home. I was in Tajikistan, I had no idea where I should go for help. The family hosting me in Dushanbe was very supportive, but they couldn’t help me with this problem.

My whole fieldwork was in danger: the materials I prepared were on my laptop. I had some backups stored online, but I had a very bad internet connection, so I wasn’t sure if I could access them. In general, I was planning to do the largest part of my data collection with the help of my computer. I like fieldwork notebooks, but doing everything on paper is very inefficient.

How long ago was it?

It was in 2014. It’s already 5 years ago.

How was this solved?

As I said, I had a very bad internet connection, but it was enough to send messages and emails from my phone. As I usually do in times of trouble, I messaged my friends and family asking for advice: “buy a new computer there” “Find a laptop of the same brand and create a recovery USB”… etcetera. Finally, my brother did some internet search and sent me the address of a service center which had an official partnership with my laptop manufacturer. It was the only one in the country at that time. I was very lucky that this happened when I was still in Dushanbe. I went to the service center and after a few hours of work, they recovered the system. I was incredibly happy and very grateful. Then I went to the Pamir mountains to do my fieldwork.

How could this horror be avoided?

This horror could be avoided if I created a recovery USB at home and took it with me. Ideally, I should have taken a second device that could serve as a backup. I should have also printed all the materials I prepared so that in case none of my devices works, I could still get some work done. At the service center, the IT specialist mentioned that this type of crash often happens if too much data is stored on drive C.

What lesson can we learn from this story?

The lesson I learned is: always prepare for the worst. It is especially important if you are going on a fieldwork trip. You will be far from home and won’t be able to use your usual support channels. Always think, for instance, what might happen if you won’t have access to the internet. Will you still be able to access the files you need? And will your backup system continue working? Going on such fieldwork trips costs a lot of resources; you might not be able to go to collect the data for the second time.


Did you experience data horrors in your research life? Do you think that researchers could learn from your experience? Would you like to share your story with others?

We would love to help you in turning a creepy story around data into a positive lesson learned. Use this form below to share your story with the Dutch Data Horror Team.

Horror form


Pompoen als hoofd van een donkere figuur

Are you ready for it?

Archiving panic? No backups? Bugs in your code? Licence confusion? Who ya gonna call? Just the thought of it!

And yet it happens every day.

During this Data Horror Week, researchers will share these horror stories, based on their own experience. To prevent you from making the same mistake!