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On Dissertation-on-the-Lake

Elbow lake stairs

I am a proponent of making writing social. In one of my previous blog posts, I touched briefly on writing retreats to overcome isolation among graduate students.

Here at Queen’s, we are lucky that the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) offers two writing retreats annually. The first one is The Lake Shift, which is offered in July. The second one is the Dissertation-on-the-Lake, which is offered in August. I had the pleasure of attending the Dissertation-on-the-Lake for the first time in 2017. My first experience was amazing. I decided to attend again this past summer (August 2018). The second time did not disappoint. Other than the poor weather for the first two days, I have no complaints.

Elbow lake

But, what makes the Dissertation-on-the-Lake special? Why is it that most of the participants seem to enjoy themselves despite spending mornings and afternoons working? And what is it that made many, including myself, return for another Dissertation-on-the-Lake experience? To provide answers from multiple perspectives, I had a mini brainstorming session with several participants. I posed a simple question to get their insights – What is the best part of the Dissertation-on-the-Lake experience for you?

  • Hiking the trails (and bumping into a deer)
  • Swimming and canoeing in Elbow Lake
  • Working without any distractions due to the limited Internet and network access
  • Realizing that you can be productive by including exercise and proper sleep in your daily schedule
  • Sharing graduate-student troubles with your peers – e.g. issues with supervisors, funding, family, health, etc.
  • Being inspired by those who are committed to their research despite facing major obstacles – e.g. fighting Cancer, taking care of a spouse with Cancer, taking care of ageing parents, working full time, etc.
  • Being inspired by the work of your peers – e.g. saving animals, saving rainforests, innovating; there are good people out there who want to make the world a better place!
  • Enjoying the stars at night by the fire pit
  • Bouncing research ideas with those in your field as well as those from other fields
  • Meeting old friends and making new ones
  • Playing board games at night
  • Having the luxury of focusing on your research without having to worry about household chores
  • Working among your peers – seeing everybody else working hard and becoming motivated
  • Getting back into the groove after a summer hiatus (allowing you to step up the pace for the upcoming Fall term)
  • Taking a bit of respite after working hard over the summer (incorporating play into your regular work schedule)
  • Coming to the realization that balancing work and play is possible
  • Taking a break from one’s regular, daily rut – new environment to rejuvenate one’s self
  • Being surrounded by the beautiful nature and great environment – greenery, comfortable cabins with large windows, and quaint lodges
  • Working among your peers and realizing that you are not alone in your struggles
  • Feeling proud because you met your goals!
  • Feeling satisfied despite not meeting your goals because you know that you are leaving Elbow Lake refreshed and with the momentum to continue working
  • Having family members for dinner during the middle of the week; knowing that your loved ones are there to support you
  • Working on your theses, proposals or research papers and loving the whole process

Last, but not least, the one of the best parts of Dissertation-on-the-Lake is our wonderful coordinator – Colette Steer from the SGS office. She takes great care of all the participants, making sure that everybody can work comfortably and that we are well fed.

Elbow lake trails

If you are interested in learning more about Dissertation-on-the-Lake experiences, you can read personal experiences shared by Natalia Mukhina and Rana Pishva. I had a wonderful time and would encourage all graduate students who are in their thesis / dissertation (or proposal) stage to think about attending Dissertation-on-the-Lake next summer.

Note: Special thanks to Derya, Jaime, Midori, Reheleh, and Yasmine for sharing their thoughts.

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One comment on “On Dissertation-on-the-Lake
  1. Isabel Luce Isabel Luce says:

    That sounds like such an amazing time! I love your point about being satisfied though you may not have achieved your goals as you now have the momentum to keep writing. I’m going to try to get out for next year’s retreat!

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