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    Boot Camp whips grad students into shape

     Dissertation Boot Camp participants, June 2012.

    Peter Price knows a thing or two about procrastination. As a student in the fourth year of a PhD in history, he’s whiled away more than a few hours at the computer, struggling to stay focused. That’s why last summer he decided to attend Dissertation Boot Camp, an intensive program geared at helping graduate students make significant headway in their thesis writing.

    “It was amazing, quite honestly,” says Mr. Price. “I was basically able to start and finish an entire chapter over the course of the week – 10,000 words in five days. All I needed was the opportunity to sit down and do nothing but write.”

    Mr. Price admits that if he’d been left to his own devices, that amount of writing could easily have taken a month. Elizabeth Parsons, a Learning Strategies advisor with Student Academic Success Services, says Boot Camp works because it helps create an environment that is conducive to writing, from making the Internet inaccessible, to getting students to put their phones away.

    “It’s really about focusing on writing and avoiding distractions,” she explains. “There will also be a lot of talk about procrastination and the other barriers that prevent people from getting their writing done.”

    Running over a series of four or five days, each Boot Camp balances extended writing sessions with breaks for mini-workshops and discussion about everything from writer’s block to procrastination. Boot Camp also helps create a sense of community for what is otherwise a fairly solitary process.

    Deanna Mason, Writing Centre Workshop Coordinator for Student Academic Success Services, says the idea is that students will learn the skills they need in order to maintain their writing momentum once they’re left to their own devices. “It’s all about taking what you’ve learned in Boot Camp back to your regular life,” she says.

    This article is one in a series profiling Student Academic Success Services (SASS) and the programs and resources it provides.

    Dissertation Boot Camp is jointly presented by the School of Graduate Studies and Student Academic Success Services: Learning Strategies and the Writing Centre. It runs February 19-22 and June 3-7. To register for the June Boot Camp, contact Colette Steer at the School of Graduate Studies (steerc@queensu.ca).