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Nature and nurture

Graduate students participating in two annual Queen’s writing retreats find that, by the lake, the words just seem to flow better.

[Queen's University Dissertation on the Lake Suyin Olguin Lake Opinicon]
Nevena Martinović, Suyin Olguin, and Jhordan Layne found a spot by the lake to work on their dissertations. (Supplied Photo)

Picture this: a cabin in the woods, nestled in beside a lake. Adirondack chairs, canoes drifting lazily by in the distance, and wildlife scampering about – with this peaceful stillness occasionally interrupted by bursts of laptop keyboards clacking. 

The scenic venues of Elbow Lake and Lake Opinicon are each, for one week of the year, turned into writing retreat centres for graduate students, offering the 50 participants a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and focus on their thesis. Marta Straznicky, Associate Dean with the School of Graduate Studies, says the retreats combine the serenity of the lakeside settings, the comfort of the cabins and home-cooked meals, and a sense of community which the participants say continues long after the retreats have ended. 

“Both at the Lake Shift and Dissertation on the Lake retreats we try to create an environment that is conducive to writing as well as self-care,” she says. “Students reconnect with their research and can try new work habits, while also allowing themselves to rest and enjoy socializing with their peers.” 

[Amanda Hansen Lake Shift]
Amanda Hansen was clearly ready to 'take the Lake Shift', as she attended in 2017 and returned to Lake Opinicon this year. (Supplied Photo)

The Lake Shift, which takes place at QUBS in July, invites students from a number of Ontario universities to meet at Lake Opinicon and focus on their research for five days. During their time, the students receive plenty of support and guidance to help them through the task ahead of them. After attending Lake Shift in 2017, Brock University nursing student Amanda Hansen formed a research project with another attendee focused on nursing education.

"I immediately knew I wanted to apply to the retreat again this year to continue these conversations and start new ones, but also to have dedicated time to write in a space that provides a supportive and energizing atmosphere enabling purposeful writing," says Ms. Hansen. "Some interesting new connections have been made again this year and conversations about new research projects are in the works. Apart from this research project, I also had the organized and motivated time to finish my literature review for my thesis."

Dissertation on the Lake, meanwhile, brings Queen’s graduate students to Elbow Lake in August for a five-day retreat that is focused on writing – though students have been known to occasionally take a breather and enjoy some hiking or other relaxation activities. The retreat, now in its fifth year, typically attracts 30 participants.  

Suyin Olguin is a doctoral candidate and is participating for her second consecutive year because she finds the uninterrupted writing time valuable and important for her health. 

“The demands of teaching and of motherhood throughout the academic year make it very difficult to muster the energy and dedication needed to complete a project of such length and depth,” says Ms. Olguin. “I have produced incredible work at Dissertation on the Lake, all of which is now part of a chapter, has been published, or has been presented at an international conference.” 

This year’s Dissertation on the Lake retreat takes place August 27 – 31. Stay tuned to the School of Graduate Studies website for updates from Elbow Lake. 

Read more about how this year’s Lake Shift went on the Graduate Studies website