School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Boot camp moves students one step closer to dissertation completionCongratulatory cake for finishing boot camp

By Lorinda Peterson
August 2014

Writing six hours a day for five consecutive days is not for the faint of heart. Resisting the internet and the urge for friendly social media chats during writing time is an equal task. But 16 Masters and 38 PhD students were up for the challenge during the School of Graduate Studies’ (SGS) most recent Dissertation Boot Camp. Armed with laptops, iPods, water bottles, and completed research, they gathered in the Douglas Library Reading Room to set up camp.

This is the fifth time we’ve run the boot camp,” says organizer Colette Steer, SGS Recruitment and Events Manager. “Dissertation writing can be a solitary process. Although we set some rules like ‘no to the net’, boot camp is a wonderful opportunity for students to come together and feel supported both by staff and by fellow students.”

Dissertation Boot Camp is a partnership between SGS and Student Academic Success Services (the Writing Centre and Learning Strategies.) The well-planned program encourages students to make substantial progress on their theses or dissertations, taking advantage of boot camp’s supportive and distraction-free environment. Morning mini workshops get students thinking about writing. Facilitators provide tips to get them started, ideas for overcoming writer’s block, and methods for maintaining writing momentum once boot camp is over. But writing time really means writing time. Two three-hour writing blocks each day provide opportunities to develop new sections and chapters, or focus on expanding and editing existing ones. Boot camp writing time is not time for data analyses, or creating tables and figures for reference. Students are encouraged to complete these ahead of time and bring them along. And yes, you need to be looking over your shoulder if you’re wasting time on the internet instead of writing!

“Prior to the Boot Camp, I was finding myself conducting extra research, always under the impression I would find that "perfect" new source for my research,” says second year Sociology MA student Mark Mansour. “I was able to write notes but it was not as focused. Invariably, as I learned through the Boot Camp and other prior learning strategy sessions, this can lead to a never-ending rabbit hole.”

Dissertation Boot Camp engages students in writing, and in learning about their writing processes. They are encouraged to reflect on their writing at the end of each session, identifying both what works well, and ways for addressing obstacles they encounter. Learning Strategies and Writing Centre staff are present all week to handle logistics – most importantly when to start and when to stop writing. They are available to answer questions and in addition to the daily workshops, they facilitate one-on-one consultations with students on specific aspects of their writing strategy or writing practice, including focused sessions for English-language learners.

“I think boot camp helps address a lot of ‘blocks’ that students may face in their writing,” says Liz Parsons, Learning Strategist. “At the end of the week, students are pleasantly surprised, even amazed, by how productive they can be once they’ve addressed some of these blocks—whether it’s being stuck on a particular point in the writing, finding time and space to write in a busy week, or managing any number of emotions or motivations that come into play during the writing process. Boot camp can help with these challenges.”

If progress toward completion of theses and dissertations is not enough incentive, boot camp boasts great snacks, lunch provided on three of the five days, and a mid-week yoga class to keep the energy flowing. In every group discussion heads nod, acknowledging shared experience with speakers who get stuck in their writing, who procrastinate, who over research, and who get drawn away from writing by the internet’s wiles. In the end, dissertation writing is a solitary process, but it seems dissertation writers are never alone in their experience, and boot camp is an excellent opportunity for sharing.

“I am very fortunate to have attended this boot camp and wanted to share my sincerest thanks with the entire staff for a very well organized, exciting and productive boot camp,” adds Mr. Monsour. “All the staff were incredibly helpful, and I was able to write a chapter for my thesis and conduct revisions on another chapter. If I continue at Queen's for further research, I would very much like to attend this workshop again.”

Check the School of Graduate Studies website occasionally for details about the next Dissertation Boot Camp. Space is limited and priority is given to students who are nearing completion.  And if you want to do this by a lake, the SGS will have their first "Dissertation on the Lake" starting next week at Queen's Elbow Lake campsite.