Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

Search form

Writing on the water

By Andrew Stokes, Communications Officer

Finishing a doctoral dissertation is a long process of researching, writing and revising, but a new pilot program by the School of Graduate Studies is adding hiking, swimming and canoeing to the mix.

From August 25-28, 34 graduate students will have the opportunity to take part in Dissertation on the Lake, a writing retreat held at Queen’s University Biological Station 30 minutes north of Kingston on Elbow Lake. Students will be housed in the university’s 10 two-bedroom cabins and will spend their days in writing, recreation and cooking with their cabin mates.

Elbow Lake is located 30 minutes north of Kingston. (Photo courtesy of QUBS Outreach Flickr).

“The idea for the program came to me when I visiting one of Elbow Lake’s open houses,” says Sandra den Otter, Associate Dean, School of Graduate Studies. “I was taken aback by its beauty and tranquility and thought it would be an excellent place to convene a writing community. Writing can be a solitary endeavour, and this is an opportunity to change that.”

Days spent at Elbow Lake will be structured around two three-hour writing sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, with interspersed breaks to explore the Station’s grounds and set goals for the next day’s work
“This trip is strongly encouraging a work/life balance. Writing successfully for a long period of time requires incorporating exercise, time with friends, good nutrition, a community and a chance to experience diversity in setting, thought and people,” says den Otter. “Dissertation on the Lake aims to provide all those things.”

Attracting students from a wide variety of disciplines, Dissertation on the Lake is just one of the SGS’ programs for supporting graduate students while they write their theses. It joins the likes of Thesis Persistence, a weekly writing group run by SGS in Stauffer Library and Dissertation Boot Camp, an intensive writing retreat that stresses focus and discipline.

Ian Maness, a PhD candidate who is writing his thesis on the intermingling of history and poetry in Elizabethan England and who will be attending the Dissertation on the Lake program, says he finds getting to write alongside a diverse body of students beneficial for his work.

“Getting to bounce ideas off of writers from other disciplines always proves to make your work better,” he says. “When you have to explain your project to someone who’s totally unfamiliar with your field, you have to distil it down to its core essence, helping you grasp it better.”

Mr. Maness, who is a regular attendee of both Dissertation Boot Camp and Thesis Persistence, says he knows how effective these programs can be.

“When completing your PhD, your thesis is ostensibly your most important project,” he says. “But given its long time frame, other more immediately pressing deadlines, such as publishing and marking, can take priority. Dissertation on the Lake and other programs like it are so useful because they allow you to treat your thesis as your highest priority.”

Those interested in Dissertation on the Lake and other writing supports for graduate students can find more information at the SGS website.