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Getting a writing boost at Dissertation Boot Camp

[Kathrin Tyryshkin]
Kathrin Tyryshkin got the support she needed to finish writing her dissertation at the Queen’s School of Graduate Studies’ Dissertation Boot Camp. The next Boot Camp is scheduled for June 8-12. (University Communications)

Before even defending her PhD in Computer Science, Kathrin Tyryshkin had two job offers – one in industry, and one at a Queen’s department (the one she ultimately took).

Dr. Tyryshkin surely chose a timely field and stayed the course with diligence in publishing, conferencing and teaching, but she credits at least part of her success to Queen’s School of Graduate Studies’ Dissertation Boot Camp.

The primary aim of the five-day Dissertation Boot Camp is for participants to write and make substantial headway on their thesis. The majority of the time is spent writing, with breaks for snacks, lunch, and structured group discussions about topics relevant to thesis writers.

As a computer scientist working in the field of biomedical computing, Dr. Tyryshkin loves analyzing data, but has never been particularly fond of writing.

“I struggled to find motivation to write,” she says of that component of the PhD work. But “from the first moment of Boot Camp, there’s something in the air, and you understand that you’re going to start right now. You don’t want to check your email or phone. You no longer feel obligated to think of planning what’s for supper. You have permission to just be in the zone.”

Beyond having the pressure of endless everyday decisions lifted and absorbing the motivationally charged atmosphere, it was a consultation with Student Academic Success Services’ Liz Parsons that made a big difference to Dr. Tyryshkin’s writing approach.

“Liz had me plan out the tasks I had in store and write down beside each one the time it would take,” she says. “I added it up and said: this won’t work.”

Dr. Tyryshkin reorganized though, and then work she most certainly did.

After her fourth and final Boot Camp, Dr. Tyryshkin went to the library every day for a month until she was finished writing. When it came time to share the results with the people who cared the most – her thesis examiners, including co-supervisors Janice Glasgow (School of Computing) and Stephen Scott (Neuroscience; Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) – the quality of Dr. Tyryshkin’s writing made the difference between a stressful event and one that the newly-minted PhD genuinely enjoyed.

“My defence was a great experience. The committee complimented my written work, saying it was enjoyable to read,” she says. “I’m grateful to Dissertation Boot Camp for that.”

Recognizing the importance of being nice to your reader, she says simply: “A good thesis equals a good defence.”

Now, Dr. Tyryshkin is working for Queen’s Department of Pathology & Molecular Medicine performing various genetic data analyses for pathologists and clinicians, as well as mentoring some graduate students. She is also teaching a second year Computer Science course for which she had been the TA for a number of years. By looking at things such as gene expression and protein expression, researchers can discover differences in things such as treatment prognosis and differences between subgroups of cancer – perhaps enabling the administration of targeted therapies.

The next Dissertation Boot Camp is scheduled for June 8-12. Registration will open in mid-May.

Registration forms can be found at queensu.ca/sgs/dissertation-bootcamp. Once complete the form can be returned to Colette Steer, School of Graduate Studies, Gordon Hall, room 425 or by email.