School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Let The Lake Shift Begin!

  • Woman sweeping with a large broom.

    Colette cleans house!

  • People playing volleyball.

    A friendly volleyball game amoung Lakeshifters.

  • Student working on a laptop.

    Taking a break indoors to get some work done at the Lake Shift.

  • Four students sitting on a bench holding ice cream.

    Ice cream at Chaffey's Lock!

  • Students playing cards.

    A chance to play some card games.

  • Students writing on laptops.

    Getting some writing done at the Lake Shift.

  • People sitting on a dock.

    Are you ready to take the Lake Shift?

  • People in a canoe on the water.

    Canoeing on Lake Opinicon.

  • People swimming in a lake.

    Lakeshifters going for a swim!

  • Four people standing around a bocce ball.

    BOCCE, anyone?

  • Participants sitting outdoors.

    Relaxing before dinner.

  • Group of people talking.

    Carol chatting.

  • School bus full of people in the woods.

    The shuttle from Kingston arrives!

  • Two people carrying luggage down the road.

    Porter! Hmm, guess we have to find our own cabin.

  • Group photo of participants on the steps.

    The Lakeshift participants 2017.

The Lake Effect

Catherine Dale

I started the week running late – which is pretty typical for me.  Despite knowing I was on dish duty the first morning of the Lake Shift, I decided to begin my day with a quick bike ride along the Cataraqui Trail….which took a little more time than I had planned.  And so as the first official Lake Shift writing session launched, I was still haphazardly stacking clean dishes in the Queen’s University Biological Station kitchen.  By the time I was finished, all the other Lake Shifters had already settled in with their computers and the constant clacking of computer keys filled the main lodge dining room.

I grabbed my own laptop and began wandering the station, looking for a quiet place to work.  With 50 dissertation-writing graduate students scattered throughout the handful of QUBS buildings, space was at a premium, and it was a challenge to find somewhere where I could write without bumping elbows with my neighbours.

Eventually, I stuck my head into the seminar room on the lower level of the main lodge.  Although the room was large and quiet – with only one other writer in residence – it was also lacking in table space and natural light.  And the ambiance left a lot to be desired: the beady eyes of stuffed, mounted mammals and birds glared back at me from all directions, and old, creased posters detailing QUBS projects from summers past covered virtually every square inch of wall.

However, my tour of the station suggested that the seminar room was my best option.  I carefully moved a stuffed mink to another table, then opened my laptop and began unloading papers into the space I’d cleared.  Looking up, I met the judgemental gaze of a large stuffed beaver, frozen forever with a wood chip between his teeth.  “I’m working,” his entire posture seemed to say, “So why aren’t you?”

Under his watchful eyes, I fired up my computer and grudgingly opened my half-completed chapter.  But as I stared balefully at the screen, silently willing my thesis to write itself, I realized I was having a severe case of déjà vu: I had been in this exact position before.  I dug away at layers of memory until I unearthed the relevant one.  Almost fifteen years ago, I had been sitting at a spot not 12 feet from where I sat now, staring at my computer screen and procrastinating beginning the research for my honours thesis. 

The summer after my third year of undergrad, I was lucky enough to land a job as a field assistant, studying birds at QUBS.  As part of the deal, I got to carry out a small research project of my own and write it up for my fourth year honours thesis.  Although I was initially nervous about taking the job, working at QUBS turned out to be something of a revelation for me. 

When I started the summer, I was very much a city girl.  Some people seem to be naturals at communing with nature, but I quickly discovered that I was not one of them.  From the very first field day, when I showed up to work in sandals only to be confronted by a freak May snowstorm, the job seemed a bit of a mismatch.

And yet, little by little, QUBS won me over.  There is something decidedly magical about waking before dawn and hearing the forest come to life with the dawn chorus, spending your hard-earned downtime floating in a warm lake under a cloudless sky, and ending the night beside the crackle of a campfire, surrounded by the sparks of hundreds of fireflies.  But even more magical, for me, were the people I met at the station.  For the first time since starting undergrad, I felt that I was part of a community – a community of people who shared many of my interests and enthusiasms.  I had always been on the shy side, but at QUBS, I found it easy to talk to people. 

That first summer at QUBS was probably the most important summer of my life.  Not only did I make some good friends, but it opened up an entirely new world to me.  Until that point, I hadn’t really considered going to graduate school – but working in the field that summer, I realized that I had found a path I wanted to stay on.

Fast forward an embarrassing 15 years, and here I was: still on that path, but feeling a bit derailed. I was back at Queen’s, trying to finish what had turned into an epically long PhD, and back at QUBS, hoping that a dissertation boot camp would help me take the last few weary steps towards that goal.

When I arrived at QUBS to begin the Lake Shift, I was not in the best head space.  I was discouraged, cynical and frustrated with my project, with Queen’s, with the academic system in general, and most of all with myself for taking so long to finish.  With some part of my mind, I was looking forward to spending time at QUBS…but the majority of my brain was preoccupied with the stress of my looming deadlines and excruciatingly slow progress. 

When I got to the station, my first thought was that a great deal had changed since I had worked there as an undergraduate.  A huge new library building adorned the main lawn, several new cabins dotted the roads, and virtually every staff member was different.

But it quickly became apparent that some things had remained the same.  The first evening, as dusk fell, we were treated to an amazing display of fireflies, lighting up the night like paparazzi sighting the latest reality television star.  The fleet of indestructible metal canoes still sat patiently by the boathouse, just waiting for someone to slip them into the water and embark on an adventure.  The gooey roasted marshmallows eaten by the flickering campfire light still tasted every bit as good. 

And once again, the most magical part was the people.  There’s no getting around the fact that grad school is often isolating and lonely.  But at QUBS, as we all lingered around the campfire, sharing small parts of our stories, I felt part of a community again.  There was huge relief in being around people struggling with the challenges I was so familiar with – people who understood that some days, just getting a sentence down on paper is an indescribable triumph.

So without me even really noticing, somewhere along the way, QUBS won me over again.  Between the fireflies and the swimming, the campfires and the company, I remembered exactly why it was that I had started down this path…and what it is that I love about what I do.

From the outside, it may look like years of effort (and thousands of dollars of tuition), have brought me only 12 feet from where I started.  But the truth is that the world looks pretty different from this side of the room.  It’s been a long, slow journey, but my time at QUBS helped me realize that I don’t regret a moment of it.

Shifting my writing/thinking

Janna Klostermann
(Carleton University, Ottawa, ON)

Portrait of Janna Klostermann.

I showed up to #thelakeshift writing retreat armed with a list of 37-odd things I could do or should do as a part of my doctoral research. I had a running list of chapters, articles, literature reviews, poems and personal essays to write, revise, rework, rethink, and eventually send off. I had ten or twenty works-in-progress calling my name. I had energy, enthusiasm and ambition, but I lacked a real plan of attack.

On the first night at the Lake Shift, our hosts Colette Steer and Marta Straznicky threw us each a Lake Shift t-shirt and welcomed us to camp. Colette peformed a comedy set, poking fun at herself, poking fun at the camp experience and encouraging us not to take ourselves or our work too seriously. From there, Marta introduced us to the “Slow Professor” movement, encouraging us to slow down, to breathe, and to be gentle on ourselves. She encouraged us not to force it, overdo it or put too much pressure on our work. Listening to them, I was motivated to shelve my running list of ‘could dos’ and ‘should dos,’ to stop jumping from one task to another, and to instead set a few meaningful goals for the week. Without overthinking it, I decided I would:

Show up. Stay present. Stay off the internet during the day. Chip away at a chapter in the morning and a journal article in the afternoon, without jumping from task to task to task.  

On the first morning of work, I settled in at a table in the Main Lodge; a gorgeous lakeside dining room with bottomless coffee, birds chirping at the feeders and grad students plucking at their keyboards. I made a point to sit near a power outlet, and made a point to cover my ears when a fellow student blurted the WiFi password! Then, when the clock struck nine, I charged out of the gates! I wrote with a vengeance, writing a few quick vignettes and drawing energy from others. I was in the zone and in my glory … until 10am when I ran out of steam. An hour into the week-long writing retreat, I ran out of material, momentum and wherewithal. Shoot. I bottomed out, hit a lull, and wondered how I could hang in there for another five full days. Again, shoot.

Rather than jumping ahead to the next thing on my to do list, though, I held myself to my goals. I stayed put and stayed with the tension. I read things over, doodled, and thought about the project and my frustrations with it. I tried not to force it, and tried to be gentle on myself and on the work. Rather than switching to an easier task, I gave the project some breathing space. I gave myself space to be overwhelmed and space to struggle with what I was most wanted to say with my work.

I stayed put, stayed present, and stayed with the trouble. I took up Maggie Berg’s invitation to write as a way to think. I took time to puzzle and process, doodle and daydream. I drafted an outline and a mind-map, and I made connections between different parts of the project. Slowly but surely, I reconnected with the project and with myself. I also connected with others, chatting about our work, swimming, hiking, canoeing and eating cake. I stayed put and stayed present. I happily took the #thelakeshift, shifting my writing and shifting my thinking.

Janna Klostermann (@jannaKlos) is a PhD student in Carleton’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology. She is exploring the social organization of care/disability from the standpoint of care workers reaching their limits.

Lake Shift 2017

Day 5

Quiet cloudy morning, perfect for getting back into the groove of writing. Breakfast is always a good time to check in and see how our Lakeshifters are doing. What energy I get from all of them.  Talk about inspiring. I have loved watching where everyone is writing, in the library, in their cabin, in the dining hall, on the outside tables.

One topic of the day was the “spider” story.  You hear about the “fish” stories of how big a fish you caught.  Well at the Lake Shift it is “did you see that spider?   It was the size of my palm, my hand, no wait a minute it was even bigger than that!” So from a knock on the door at night to ask if the brave Aussie could come and rescue you them from the spider of the century hanging over the beam above them, to the remark from said Aussie “no way, I hate spiders, so you are on your own!” to making do, trying to sleep with one eye open, it made for a great story.  Not a good night sleep, but that was the start of the spider stories for the day.

Day four of writing was amazing.  More goals were getting moved over to the achievements board and even some funny notes were creeping in. Along with the writing was also an opportunity for some of our Lakeshifters to practice speaking to different audiences.  For example, six were interviewed for our radio show Grad Chat, and just as many were interviewed for a video piece.  Some great professional development for them all. A bit of an added bonus.

We got a visit from our (Queen’s) graduate Dean and Faculty of Arts & Science Dean.  They got the opportunity to sit and chat with some of the Lakeshifters and they brought us all chocolate!

The evening was a time for everyone to relax. Some played sport or cards, some went for a final canoe, some went into the pub for a quick drink or icecream, but most of all everyone turned up at the fire.  Lots of chatter, lots of high fives and lots of generally good feeling and sense of accomplishment all around.

Tomorrow is our final day. I probably won’t write much as it is always a sad time.  Our Lake Shift family will be finishing off, packing up and driving home.  To all of you, you have made this a great week.  Best wishes to you all.

The Facts

  • Lots of snake sightings
  • Lots of volleyball played
  • Number of spiders – too many to count now.
  • How many friends made this week – 51

Adam has lost his pocket knife now!

Day 4

We are at the midway point. The day was a little overcast and yes we did get hit with quite a shower. That did not deter our intrepid Lakeshifters though. I saw many going for a run still and many getting quite wet canoeing, but not from falling in the lake. The thing about an overcast day is that it is a great incentive to knuckle down and get some quality work done. Sure you can still go outside, but there is something about cosying up to a good book (but in this case a thesis) putting you head down and just going for it. You can still stare out at the magnificent scenery around you, but the fingers can continue to type as your mind sorts through all those thoughts.

The dining room was a popular choice for writing today and so while they were doing that, I got a chance to interview a few Lakeshifters for our next edition of Grad Chat (4pm Tuesdays on CFRC 101.9FM). That is what is so great about this week. All our students have such interesting research and that gives me plenty of fodder for our radio show, this blog and many a story to tell later.

Now I have found out that our Lakeshifters are quite competitive. We have card playing, bocce, canoe vs walking from Chaffeys Lock back to camp but the best is when each cabin is rostered to do clean up after a meal. The competition has been over how long it takes to complete the task, how efficient they are or as we saw tonight, what other services can be given to you so that you don’t have to take your plate into the kitchen. I am not sure who is winning, but I think that might be another research topic. Plenty of data to collect there.

The Facts

  • Number of deer spotted – a family
  • Number of otter families – 2
  • Number of blue herons – 3
  • Number of ice creams eaten at Chaffeys Lock – at least 11 double scoop (bubblegum, triple chocolate, pralines and cream etc)
  • Number of card games played – 3
  • Number of Grad Chat interviews – 5
  • Number of huge spiders just waiting to drop down on you in the middle of the night – 1 in cabin #12

Day 3

Nothing like a bike ride, run, walk or swim to start the day, and that is exactly what some of our Lakeshifters did this morning. We have been blessed with great weather so far, so why not take advantage of it. That seemed to be the theme for the day as well.

Following breakfast I saw Lakeshifters look for outdoor spots to set up writing. Not that they didn't before, but it seemed like this new species were making their way outside to bask in the sun, re-charge their batteries from the solar rays and get down to writing. I wondered how many goals would be achieved today and it seems like many.

After lunch the Lakeshifters moved from land to water – canoeing, swimming, the odd belly flop, but most of all lots of laughter. Talk about infectious. Nothing like some recreation and downtime to help prepare your mind for the afternoon session. And guess what – it did!

Tonight our workshop was on the “Editing Process” by our Director of Student Academic Success Services, Susan Korba, one of key partners in delivering our Expanding Horizons programs and she is integral on providing support for graduate student writing and learning strategies. The editing process is not an easy one, but equipped with the right strategies like the reverse outline, it can be a productive and more importantly a good way to complete  your work.

Following the session, the camp fire around Earl cottage was lit and the Lakeshifters moved from the safety of the main lodge to the fire to continue the conversations on just about anything including the storytelling of their own writing.

The Facts

  • Number of deer spotted – 1 doe and a very spotty fawn
  • Number of other creatures spotted – it’s a weasel, a muskrat, an otter, a groundhog! Hmm today it is an otter.
  • Number of belly flops – only one that I saw
  • Number of very wet but cool Lakeshifters – 20 at least
  • Number of Lakeshifters first time canoeing – 3 that I know of.
  • Number of cliff jumpers – 3

Day 2

Let the writing begin. Our first day of writing had our Lakeshifters start the day with writing their goal for the day. A simple task you would think but the knack is to write down achievable goals. That’s right, don’t go for the so big a goal that it is totally unattainable. Go for small chunks and reward yourself for getting there. With our guest speaker, Dr Maggie Berg back at the Lake Shift it was again the session to show that reaching too big is not easy. Getting there in small steps is often far more productive and satisfying and then you can reward yourself lavishly – cookies anyone?

That reference is from when Dr Berg asked, ”What do you say to yourself when you sit down to write?”

Allison Kwok (Trent University) replied, “I can do it, I can’t do it, Do it Anyway and then have a cookie.”  Dr Berg’s talk in a nutshell.

By the end of the day, the goals posted for the day had been moved over to the “Achieved” chart. It was great to see the smiles on people’s faces as they did this simple task.  Was it a good day?  Oh yes, it was a great day.

But the Lake Shift is not just about writing, even though that is the main reason everyone is here.  It is also about creating a community of graduate students.  This is what I love so much about these writing retreats, we have mathematicians talking with social scientists, lawyers talking with engineers, health professionals talking with students in the humanities and everyone just getting along.

Today I saw people swimming, canoeing, chatting, playing volleyball, playing bocce, cycling, running, heading out to Cow Island across the newly built boardwalk (thanks Rod), but most of all enjoying the camaraderie and conversation of fellow graduate students.  Did I mention it was a great day?  Yes and it was a great day.

The Facts

  • Mozzie bites – a few more today
  • Bonfires – one fantastically big one
  • Number of marshmallow eaten – whatever was left over from last night
  • Number of achievements – looking good

Day 1

Wow, what do you get when you have 50 students from 14 Ontario Universities at one venue? You get the second annual Lake Shift. A writing retreat for graduate students up at Queen’s University Biological Centre at Lake Opinicon. Yes it was here before we knew it and what a pleasure it was to meet the new group of Lake Shifters.

The day started with an awesome list of who was arriving when and by what mode of transport – train, bus, shuttle and car. Of course no matter how good the schedule is, you can guarantee that something won’t go quite to plan. But never fear, we at the Lake Shift can handle all sorts of adversity and so why not start day 1. Let’s see we had those who thought the Lake was just on the eastern outskirts of Toronto – sorry but let’s try another 3.5-4 hours east of Toronto (must remember to add that to the memo next year).  Then there were those who had connection problems and so missed the bus to Toronto. But that was not going to hold them back, they stated their case in no uncertain terms that they must get to Kingston and the Lake Shift tonight and they did! Then there was the inconvenient road blocks holding up traffic and of course the – I think we are lost!  Where are you I ask?  We are in the jungle!

After settling in, some of the gang went to check out the swimming holes – the beach, the diving dock and the boat dock. There are others of course, but with the water temperature in the early 20s (or so Aaron said), I think these are going to be full of recreational Lakeshifters. 

So as you can see, the Lake Shift is already an event with lots of opportunities and drama.  Don’t worry though, our Lakeshifters are a hardy lot – just make a fire and give them some marshmallows and they are ready for anything.

Tomorrow the writing begins.  They have had their pep talk from Associate Dean Marta Straznicky, their free Lake Shift t-shirt (complements of Queen’s Campus Bookstore) and are settled in to their cabins.  Let’s hope the weather cooperates as I can feel this is going to be a great Lake Shift.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s glimpse of the Lake Shift. Did I forget - #thelakeshift

The Facts

  • Deer sightings – at least 1
  • Mama and baby turkey sightings – 1
  • Number of Lakeshifters lost – 2
  • Number of Lakeshifters not arriving quite at the time they thought they would – just about all of them
  • Number of marshmallows eaten on the first night – hmm at lease the first bag.
  • Number of swimming holes played in to date – 0!

Be sure to Tweet us with any photos using the hashtag #thelakeshift, and follow SGS on twitter at @queensgradstudy

The Lake Shift

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