School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Past Lake Shifts

  • Woman sweeping with a large broom.

    Colette cleans house!

  • People playing volleyball.

    A friendly volleyball game amoung Lakeshifters.

  • Student working on a laptop.

    Taking a break indoors to get some work done at the Lake Shift.

  • People in a canoe on the water.

    Canoeing on Lake Opinicon.

  • Four students sitting on a bench holding ice cream.

    Ice cream at Chaffey's Lock!

  • People sitting on a dock.

    Are you ready to take the Lake Shift?

See below how "The Lake Shift" went in past years!

Lake Shift 2017

Day 1

Wow, what do you get when you have 50 students from 14 Ontario Universities at one venue? You get the second annual Lake Shift. A writing retreat for graduate students up at Queen’s University Biological Centre at Lake Opinicon. Yes it was here before we knew it and what a pleasure it was to meet the new group of Lake Shifters.

The day started with an awesome list of who was arriving when and by what mode of transport – train, bus, shuttle and car. Of course no matter how good the schedule is, you can guarantee that something won’t go quite to plan. But never fear, we at the Lake Shift can handle all sorts of adversity and so why not start day 1. Let’s see we had those who thought the Lake was just on the eastern outskirts of Toronto – sorry but let’s try another 3.5-4 hours east of Toronto (must remember to add that to the memo next year).  Then there were those who had connection problems and so missed the bus to Toronto. But that was not going to hold them back, they stated their case in no uncertain terms that they must get to Kingston and the Lake Shift tonight and they did! Then there was the inconvenient road blocks holding up traffic and of course the – I think we are lost!  Where are you I ask?  We are in the jungle!

After settling in, some of the gang went to check out the swimming holes – the beach, the diving dock and the boat dock. There are others of course, but with the water temperature in the early 20s (or so Aaron said), I think these are going to be full of recreational Lakeshifters. 

So as you can see, the Lake Shift is already an event with lots of opportunities and drama.  Don’t worry though, our Lakeshifters are a hardy lot – just make a fire and give them some marshmallows and they are ready for anything.

Tomorrow the writing begins.  They have had their pep talk from Associate Dean Marta Straznicky, their free Lake Shift t-shirt (complements of Queen’s Campus Bookstore) and are settled in to their cabins.  Let’s hope the weather cooperates as I can feel this is going to be a great Lake Shift.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s glimpse of the Lake Shift. Did I forget - #thelakeshift

The Facts:

  • Deer sightings – at least 1
  • Mama and baby turkey sightings – 1
  • Number of Lakeshifters lost – 2
  • Number of Lakeshifters not arriving quite at the time they thought they would – just about all of them
  • Number of marshmallows eaten on the first night – hmm at lease the first bag.
  • Number of swimming holes played in to date – 0!

Day 2

Let the writing begin. Our first day of writing had our Lakeshifters start the day with writing their goal for the day. A simple task you would think but the knack is to write down achievable goals. That’s right, don’t go for the so big a goal that it is totally unattainable. Go for small chunks and reward yourself for getting there. With our guest speaker, Dr Maggie Berg back at the Lake Shift it was again the session to show that reaching too big is not easy. Getting there in small steps is often far more productive and satisfying and then you can reward yourself lavishly – cookies anyone?

That reference is from when Dr Berg asked, ”What do you say to yourself when you sit down to write?”

Allison Kwok (Trent University) replied, “I can do it, I can’t do it, Do it Anyway and then have a cookie.”  Dr Berg’s talk in a nutshell.

By the end of the day, the goals posted for the day had been moved over to the “Achieved” chart. It was great to see the smiles on people’s faces as they did this simple task.  Was it a good day?  Oh yes, it was a great day.

But the Lake Shift is not just about writing, even though that is the main reason everyone is here.  It is also about creating a community of graduate students.  This is what I love so much about these writing retreats, we have mathematicians talking with social scientists, lawyers talking with engineers, health professionals talking with students in the humanities and everyone just getting along.

Today I saw people swimming, canoeing, chatting, playing volleyball, playing bocce, cycling, running, heading out to Cow Island across the newly built boardwalk (thanks Rod), but most of all enjoying the camaraderie and conversation of fellow graduate students.  Did I mention it was a great day?  Yes and it was a great day.

The Facts:

  • Mozzie bites – a few more today
  • Bonfires – one fantastically big one
  • Number of marshmallow eaten – whatever was left over from last night
  • Number of achievements – looking good

Day 3

Nothing like a bike ride, run, walk or swim to start the day, and that is exactly what some of our Lakeshifters did this morning. We have been blessed with great weather so far, so why not take advantage of it. That seemed to be the theme for the day as well.

Following breakfast I saw Lakeshifters look for outdoor spots to set up writing. Not that they didn't before, but it seemed like this new species were making their way outside to bask in the sun, re-charge their batteries from the solar rays and get down to writing. I wondered how many goals would be achieved today and it seems like many.

After lunch the Lakeshifters moved from land to water – canoeing, swimming, the odd belly flop, but most of all lots of laughter. Talk about infectious. Nothing like some recreation and downtime to help prepare your mind for the afternoon session. And guess what – it did!

Tonight our workshop was on the “Editing Process” by our Director of Student Academic Success Services, Susan Korba, one of key partners in delivering our Expanding Horizons programs and she is integral on providing support for graduate student writing and learning strategies. The editing process is not an easy one, but equipped with the right strategies like the reverse outline, it can be a productive and more importantly a good way to complete  your work.

Following the session, the camp fire around Earl cottage was lit and the Lakeshifters moved from the safety of the main lodge to the fire to continue the conversations on just about anything including the storytelling of their own writing.

The Facts:

  • Number of deer spotted – 1 doe and a very spotty fawn
  • Number of other creatures spotted – it’s a weasel, a muskrat, an otter, a groundhog! Hmm today it is an otter.
  • Number of belly flops – only one that I saw
  • Number of very wet but cool Lakeshifters – 20 at least
  • Number of Lakeshifters first time canoeing – 3 that I know of.
  • Number of cliff jumpers – 3

Day 4

We are at the midway point. The day was a little overcast and yes we did get hit with quite a shower. That did not deter our intrepid Lakeshifters though. I saw many going for a run still and many getting quite wet canoeing, but not from falling in the lake. The thing about an overcast day is that it is a great incentive to knuckle down and get some quality work done. Sure you can still go outside, but there is something about cosying up to a good book (but in this case a thesis) putting you head down and just going for it. You can still stare out at the magnificent scenery around you, but the fingers can continue to type as your mind sorts through all those thoughts.

The dining room was a popular choice for writing today and so while they were doing that, I got a chance to interview a few Lakeshifters for our next edition of Grad Chat (4pm Tuesdays on CFRC 101.9FM). That is what is so great about this week. All our students have such interesting research and that gives me plenty of fodder for our radio show, this blog and many a story to tell later.

Now I have found out that our Lakeshifters are quite competitive. We have card playing, bocce, canoe vs walking from Chaffeys Lock back to camp but the best is when each cabin is rostered to do clean up after a meal. The competition has been over how long it takes to complete the task, how efficient they are or as we saw tonight, what other services can be given to you so that you don’t have to take your plate into the kitchen. I am not sure who is winning, but I think that might be another research topic. Plenty of data to collect there.

The Facts:

  • Number of deer spotted – a family
  • Number of otter families – 2
  • Number of blue herons – 3
  • Number of ice creams eaten at Chaffeys Lock – at least 11 double scoop (bubblegum, triple chocolate, pralines and cream etc)
  • Number of card games played – 3
  • Number of Grad Chat interviews – 5
  • Number of huge spiders just waiting to drop down on you in the middle of the night – 1 in cabin #12

Day 5

Quiet cloudy morning, perfect for getting back into the groove of writing. Breakfast is always a good time to check in and see how our Lakeshifters are doing. What energy I get from all of them.  Talk about inspiring. I have loved watching where everyone is writing, in the library, in their cabin, in the dining hall, on the outside tables.

One topic of the day was the “spider” story.  You hear about the “fish” stories of how big a fish you caught.  Well at the Lake Shift it is “did you see that spider?   It was the size of my palm, my hand, no wait a minute it was even bigger than that!” So from a knock on the door at night to ask if the brave Aussie could come and rescue you them from the spider of the century hanging over the beam above them, to the remark from said Aussie “no way, I hate spiders, so you are on your own!” to making do, trying to sleep with one eye open, it made for a great story.  Not a good night sleep, but that was the start of the spider stories for the day.

Day four of writing was amazing.  More goals were getting moved over to the achievements board and even some funny notes were creeping in. Along with the writing was also an opportunity for some of our Lakeshifters to practice speaking to different audiences.  For example, six were interviewed for our radio show Grad Chat, and just as many were interviewed for a video piece.  Some great professional development for them all. A bit of an added bonus.

We got a visit from our (Queen’s) graduate Dean and Faculty of Arts & Science Dean.  They got the opportunity to sit and chat with some of the Lakeshifters and they brought us all chocolate!

The evening was a time for everyone to relax. Some played sport or cards, some went for a final canoe, some went into the pub for a quick drink or icecream, but most of all everyone turned up at the fire.  Lots of chatter, lots of high fives and lots of generally good feeling and sense of accomplishment all around.

Tomorrow is our final day. I probably won’t write much as it is always a sad time.  Our Lake Shift family will be finishing off, packing up and driving home.  To all of you, you have made this a great week.  Best wishes to you all.

The Facts:

  • Lots of snake sightings
  • Lots of volleyball played
  • Number of spiders – too many to count now.
  • How many friends made this week – 51

Adam has lost his pocket knife now!

Lake Shift 2016

Day 1

July 24, Day One - The Arrival

By Colette Steer, June 24, 2016

  • school bus arrives at the lake shift

    Day One - The bus is here!

  • Students arrive at the lake shift on a bus

    Day One - Arriving at The Lake Shift!

  • Rochelle Stevenson and Supriya Jyoti at the lake shift

    Day One - Rochelle Stevenson (Sociology) and Supriya Jyoti (Computing Science)

  • Marta and De-Lawrence

    Day One - Marta and De-Lawrence Lamptey (Queen's Rehab Science)

  • Marta and Sylvain

    Day One - Marta and Sylvain Gagne (Western and RMC Education)

  • Sylvain, Supriya, Rochelle and Colette

    Day One - Sylvain, Supriya, Rochelle and Colette

At 10.30am Marta and I packed the cars and set off to Lake Opinicon to ready ourselves for the arrival of 41 graduate students from 7 Ontario Universities at Queen’s University Biological Station (QUBS). From 2pm, on they started to arrive in cars and a big yellow school bus. Some arrived with excitement and some with a little trepidation, after all some are city folk and what is this camping experience really all about.

By 5pm the majority of the students had arrived with the last few still battling traffic – its long way from Cleveland and Sudbury! With an introduction from the QUBS staff (which are awesome by the way), on staying safe at camp and what you need to do when on kitchen duty (very important), the gang sat and listened, laughed occasionally and gasped when hearing about bear sightings, check yourselves for ticks daily and don’t drink the tap water.

Then came what everyone was waiting for – the bell for dinner. Rung 3 times a day to signify breakfast, lunch or dinner is served. It had already been a long day and some had travelled more than 8 hours just to get here (we are so lucky that QUBS is only 50 minutes from campus).

And the discussions began. What is great about writing retreats like this, is the opportunity for graduate students to mix not only with others in their program, but grad students across disciplines. This time there was the added bonus of meeting graduate students from other Universities.

At 7pm (or there about), Vice Provost and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies, Brenda Brouwer opened up the first workshop for the gang. Aptly titled “Identifying and overcoming obstacles to progress in writing”. Joined by Associate Dean, Marta Straznicky, this was an opportunity to highlight some obstacles that many graduate students find during graduate work. What were their fears of writing (or even to start writing), what were their time commitments to writing and everything else they do, what were some of the ways students had used to overcome them.

Then it was my time – CJ the DJ (CFRC 101.9FM radio show, Grad Chat fame) had ventured to the writing retreat to come back with lots of material for the show. But first, I had the luxury of being able to be the one to hand out a one of a kind #thelakeshift t.shirt to everyone in the room. Yes I planned it well to make myself look good. So as t.shirts, (kindly donated by Queen’s Campus Bookstore and designed by Arts & Science staff member, Sarah Chapman), Brenda, Marta and I tossed the tees out to the excited crowd. What graduate student doesn’t like a freebee!

T.shirts in hand, the weary lot ventured off towards their respective cabins, to either continue their discussions or crash for a good nights sleep. Some went for a dip in the amazingly warm and super clean lake. What a way to refresh yourselves.

So that was arrival day. Tomorrow the writing begins.

If you want to see where we are and to find out more about QUBS and the many activities they plan throughout the year for both researchers and the community, then check out their website.

Day 2

July 25, Day Two - The Perfect Writing Spot

By Colette Steer, June 25, 2016

  • Writing Spaces

    Day Two - Time to Write

  • some lake shift graduate students

    Day Two - Lake Shifters at Meal Time

  • evening campfire

    Day Two - The end of the night

  • lake shift campers by a campfire

    Day Two - Mmm, Marshmallows!

  • lake shift group photo 1

    Day Two - Group Photo 1

  • lake shift group photo 2

    Day Two - Group Photo 2

  • graduate student writing amongst trees

    Day Two - The writing continues

  • graduate students mix together

    Day Two - Getting to know each other

It’s 4:30 am on Monday morning and all I heard were the Loons, making that amazing call from the waters of Lake Opinicon. "How very Canadian," I thought, "and sure beats the squawk of the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo in Australia to wake you up."

Now I wasn’t the only one awake at that time. It is usually around 4:30am that the researchers at the Biology Station are getting up and going to check on their birds. Seems they are easier to spot at that time in the morning. This is a reminder to us all that although we are using the station for a writing retreat, the main purpose is for field research – fish, birds, snakes (yuck), ticks and more. These researchers have been very accommodating to us as we have infiltrated their habitat.

So today is the first real day for writing. The breakfast bell rang at 7:30am and I was amazed how many were actually ready to eat! With pancakes and bacon ready to go (thank you Veronika, head chef at camp), it was a great way to start the day. Then one by one, the Lake Shifters started to write their goal for the morning or the day. Just on a post-it note and stuck it on the flipchart in the dining hall. Visuals, you got to love them.

It was a bit of rainy morning, so off the campers went to find their perfect spot to write. The Library was popular as was the dining hall and seminar room, but throughout the day, students were found outside at the BBQ tables, sitting on a garden chair, sitting on the decks or inside of their cabins. Slowly as the day went on, more post-it notes had been moved from the “Goals” flip chart, over to the “Accomplished” flip chart. It was great to see.

At lunch time Dr Bob Montgomerie (Queen’s Biology) popped by to just sit and chat with some of the students. The theme was “Chat with Bob” and they did. This was an opportunity for them to talk to a researcher who had gone through what they were experiencing now and was able to pass on his experiences and what he had learnt along the way. Although I thought Bob would only stay for lunch, he was still there chatting until 4pm! Fantastic.

The evening seminar was Dr Maggie Berg (Queen’s English) who discussed “Writing better by not trying too hard”. Maggie is the co-author of the book “The Slow Professor” and what a wonderful evening session for the students. Lots of discussion took place during the seminar and continued on after, when we all went down to Earl Cottage for a quick dip in the lake, followed by a campfire (yes with marshmallows).

So that was Day 2.

  • Writing – lots
  • Ideas/plans – lots
  • Swimming – yes
  • Bear Sightings – nil
  • Tick removals – nil
  • Little brown frog sighting – 1
  • Campfire – 1
  • Number of marshmallows eaten – too many to count

Day 3

July 26, Day Three - The Writing Continues

By Colette Steer, July 26, 2016

  • a loon on the lake

    Day Three - Lone Loon on the Lake

  • graduate students writing outside

    Day Three - Workshop session, free writing

  • a small deer

    Day Three - Oh Deer!

  • students watching boats

    Day Three - Trip for ice cream

  • students writing outside

    Day Three - Still more writing

The sun is shining, the sky is blue and who wouldn’t want to be here. After a great evening of discussion with Maggie Berg, today was the day to see if any of the conversation really spoke to the grad students. It seemed it did.

I know myself when going to conferences or seminars, that if I can come away with one thing that will help me, that is a win for me. I got back to camp and one of the comments to me, was “I wasn’t sure if this camp was for me, but after last night’s presentation from Maggie Berg, there is so much I can take from that and use not only in my own writing, but I can assist my daughter with her writing too”.

As I wandered around the biology station, the grad students were either still busy writing or now starting to take a break. Some had gone to Chaffey’s Lock after lunch for a local ice cream. They either got there by car, some walked and some canoed. Some went for a dip in the lake from one of the many areas to go swimming, some just sat and chatted and some checked back with their families to see how they were all going.

That evening our guest speaker was Hélène Lawler, an academic writer, editor and dissertation coach. The topic for the evening was “Making it to the finish line: motivation and momentum”. As it was such a beautiful evening, we held the session outside the dining hall. Now I may not be an academic, but I loved the discussion on free writing and reverse outlines. It seemed I was not alone. One exercise was to write for four minutes, just write down whatever comes in to your head and don’t stop. People get writer’s block, this group had no problem writing although their hands and wrists were sore from actually writing and not typing. Even our Associate Dean got in on the act and was scribbling away. I did try to distract her writing, but alas I failed on that note. It was fun trying though!

So it was down to Earl cottage for another camp fire, more marshmallows and great conversation. More of us did cover up though so as not to be bitten by those pesky mosquitoes. Day 3 – a winner.

Summary of Day 3:

  • Writing – keeps on going
  • Swimming – absolutely
  • Canoeing – yes
  • Ice cream trek – at least 3 groups
  • Bear Sightings – 1
  • Loon sightings – 2
  • Deer – ok, they are easy to spot now
  • Stick insects – 1 in Curran Cottage
  • Possible case of poison ivy – 1

Day 4

July 27, Day Four - Nearing the End....

By Colette Steer, July 27, 2016

  • cars waiting in a line

    Day Four - Stuck in traffic

  • the lake shift cake

    Day Four - Congratulations on completing The Lake Shift!

  • mosquito bites

    Day Four - Camping Consequences

I thought that at least once, I should start the day's summary with - good morning campers!!

I have been tempted to bring out the camp counsellor persona for this writing retreat, but luckily for everyone I have resisted and toned down my enthusiasm to be at camp. It doesn’t mean though that I have completely hidden, just that I can act wildly out of camera (so to speak).

The day started at home for me to catch up on some work. Unfortunately my dog (Finnegan – a wheaten terrier) somehow missed the memo that said, “this isn't mummy time”. It didn’t take long before I realized that I needed to go to the office to work. I am not alone in this issue either. I might not be a grad student or a mum, but there are many grad students who are Mums or Dads who have to balance – work, study and family. No easy thing to do. Mummy time (or Daddy time) is not that easy to find and as a grad student, it’s just one more thing to have to do to get some balance in your life.

Tuesday night Helene Lawler was near the end of her workshop and said “lastly, although this should be first, we need to look after ourselves”. How very true. We can’t function and handle adversity nearly as well, if we don’t feel good about ourselves, aren’t eating correctly or exercising or just finding time to wind down. If you can find some “me time” whether that be for your writing or to unwind by going for a walk or cooking a nice meal and actually sitting down to enjoy it and a plethora of others activities (they will make an academic out of me yet with that big word), then do it.

So what happened next? Time to pick up the celebratory cake. Yes, at this stage in the week, it is time to say “well done”. As Maggie Berg mentioned on Monday, reward yourself lavishly. So here is the cake. A little worse for wear as the car had no air conditioning (other than open windows) and boy was it hot! The roads to camp, well let’s just say, a little windy, and a little rough at times. Did I mention that I had a 10 minute wait at the Lock? Yep so close to camp and I was stuck in a traffic jam. Still, I think the cake was appreciated.

QUBS has a seminar series as mentioned in a previous post. The artist in residence Evaristo Hernandez Fernandez, presented his Art in Nature talk. Fascinating – how someone can just look at a bird, not take any photos and come back and draw it is amazing. Seeing his process of how he gets to his final composition was well worth listening too.

Summary of Day 4:

  • Visit to Westport hospital – 1 but all is okay, just poison ivy
  • Mosquito bites – too many to count
  • Racoon sighting – 1
  • First time swimming – 2
  • First time canoeing – 2

Day 5

July 28, Day Five - Time to go!

By Colette Steer, July 28, 2016

  • three students canoeing

    Day Five - Canoeing

  • Marta with the lake shift achievement chart

    Day Five - Celebrating Accomplishments!

  • students on a bus

    Day Five - Heading back to Kingston!

  • students waving out bus windows

    Day Five - Thank you for coming to The Lake Shift!

  • back of a bus

    Day Five - See you next year?

So with any sort of retreat, eventually it has to end!

Today after breakfast was the last effort to do some more writing before our final wrap up session. Even though writing time didn’t start till 9am, it was fun to hear students looking to get that last canoe trip in or last swim. Some funny sights on the canoeing front, but luckily all made it back to dry land.

Packing up is never easy, but in the wrap up session it was great to listen to how the students felt about the week and the first Lake Shift. I am sure they will go home and ponder about the week, but right now there is a feeling of euphoria around camp. They have written, they have laughed, they had played, they had relaxed. Not bad for 41 grad students from 7 universities getting together for the first time.

It was nice to see contact swapping and knowing there is now a Lake Shift community they can all call upon.

After lunch it was time to catch the shuttle back to Kingston to catch the bus or train. It was difficult to bid them farewell, but it was satisfying to see so many smiles.

The School of Graduate Studies would like to thank the wonderful staff at Queen’s University Biology Station for looking after us so well. To the researchers there, thanks for putting up with us taking over your camp. To the students who were brave enough to come to the Lake Shift, well you are all awesome.

So the Lake Shift for 2016 is a wrap. Thanks for reading my posts, I hope it gave you a glimmer of what the retreat was all about.

Final summary:

  • Loons calling in the morning – most heard them, some of us were too sleepy
  • Sighting of a deer with her little ones – 3
  • Number of post-it notes moved from “goals” to “achievement” – almost all of them
  • Number of photos taken with new friends – lots
  • Number of tweets Jason posted – just about all of them! Well done Jason
  • Number of sad but happy faces to leave camp – all of them

Participant Accounts

The Lake Effect

Catherine Dale
Lake Shift 2017

I started the week running late – which is pretty typical for me.  Despite knowing I was on dish duty the first morning of the Lake Shift, I decided to begin my day with a quick bike ride along the Cataraqui Trail….which took a little more time than I had planned.  And so as the first official Lake Shift writing session launched, I was still haphazardly stacking clean dishes in the Queen’s University Biological Station kitchen.  By the time I was finished, all the other Lake Shifters had already settled in with their computers and the constant clacking of computer keys filled the main lodge dining room.

I grabbed my own laptop and began wandering the station, looking for a quiet place to work.  With 50 dissertation-writing graduate students scattered throughout the handful of QUBS buildings, space was at a premium, and it was a challenge to find somewhere where I could write without bumping elbows with my neighbours.

Eventually, I stuck my head into the seminar room on the lower level of the main lodge.  Although the room was large and quiet – with only one other writer in residence – it was also lacking in table space and natural light.  And the ambiance left a lot to be desired: the beady eyes of stuffed, mounted mammals and birds glared back at me from all directions, and old, creased posters detailing QUBS projects from summers past covered virtually every square inch of wall.

However, my tour of the station suggested that the seminar room was my best option.  I carefully moved a stuffed mink to another table, then opened my laptop and began unloading papers into the space I’d cleared.  Looking up, I met the judgemental gaze of a large stuffed beaver, frozen forever with a wood chip between his teeth.  “I’m working,” his entire posture seemed to say, “So why aren’t you?”

Under his watchful eyes, I fired up my computer and grudgingly opened my half-completed chapter.  But as I stared balefully at the screen, silently willing my thesis to write itself, I realized I was having a severe case of déjà vu: I had been in this exact position before.  I dug away at layers of memory until I unearthed the relevant one.  Almost fifteen years ago, I had been sitting at a spot not 12 feet from where I sat now, staring at my computer screen and procrastinating beginning the research for my honours thesis. 

The summer after my third year of undergrad, I was lucky enough to land a job as a field assistant, studying birds at QUBS.  As part of the deal, I got to carry out a small research project of my own and write it up for my fourth year honours thesis.  Although I was initially nervous about taking the job, working at QUBS turned out to be something of a revelation for me. 

When I started the summer, I was very much a city girl.  Some people seem to be naturals at communing with nature, but I quickly discovered that I was not one of them.  From the very first field day, when I showed up to work in sandals only to be confronted by a freak May snowstorm, the job seemed a bit of a mismatch.

And yet, little by little, QUBS won me over.  There is something decidedly magical about waking before dawn and hearing the forest come to life with the dawn chorus, spending your hard-earned downtime floating in a warm lake under a cloudless sky, and ending the night beside the crackle of a campfire, surrounded by the sparks of hundreds of fireflies.  But even more magical, for me, were the people I met at the station.  For the first time since starting undergrad, I felt that I was part of a community – a community of people who shared many of my interests and enthusiasms.  I had always been on the shy side, but at QUBS, I found it easy to talk to people. 

That first summer at QUBS was probably the most important summer of my life.  Not only did I make some good friends, but it opened up an entirely new world to me.  Until that point, I hadn’t really considered going to graduate school – but working in the field that summer, I realized that I had found a path I wanted to stay on.

Fast forward an embarrassing 15 years, and here I was: still on that path, but feeling a bit derailed. I was back at Queen’s, trying to finish what had turned into an epically long PhD, and back at QUBS, hoping that a dissertation boot camp would help me take the last few weary steps towards that goal.

When I arrived at QUBS to begin the Lake Shift, I was not in the best head space.  I was discouraged, cynical and frustrated with my project, with Queen’s, with the academic system in general, and most of all with myself for taking so long to finish.  With some part of my mind, I was looking forward to spending time at QUBS…but the majority of my brain was preoccupied with the stress of my looming deadlines and excruciatingly slow progress. 

When I got to the station, my first thought was that a great deal had changed since I had worked there as an undergraduate.  A huge new library building adorned the main lawn, several new cabins dotted the roads, and virtually every staff member was different.

But it quickly became apparent that some things had remained the same.  The first evening, as dusk fell, we were treated to an amazing display of fireflies, lighting up the night like paparazzi sighting the latest reality television star.  The fleet of indestructible metal canoes still sat patiently by the boathouse, just waiting for someone to slip them into the water and embark on an adventure.  The gooey roasted marshmallows eaten by the flickering campfire light still tasted every bit as good. 

And once again, the most magical part was the people.  There’s no getting around the fact that grad school is often isolating and lonely.  But at QUBS, as we all lingered around the campfire, sharing small parts of our stories, I felt part of a community again.  There was huge relief in being around people struggling with the challenges I was so familiar with – people who understood that some days, just getting a sentence down on paper is an indescribable triumph.

So without me even really noticing, somewhere along the way, QUBS won me over again.  Between the fireflies and the swimming, the campfires and the company, I remembered exactly why it was that I had started down this path…and what it is that I love about what I do.

From the outside, it may look like years of effort (and thousands of dollars of tuition), have brought me only 12 feet from where I started.  But the truth is that the world looks pretty different from this side of the room.  It’s been a long, slow journey, but my time at QUBS helped me realize that I don’t regret a moment of it.

Shifting my writing/thinking

Janna Klostermann
(Carleton University, Ottawa, ON)
Lake Shift 2017

Portrait of Janna Klostermann.

I showed up to #thelakeshift writing retreat armed with a list of 37-odd things I could do or should do as a part of my doctoral research. I had a running list of chapters, articles, literature reviews, poems and personal essays to write, revise, rework, rethink, and eventually send off. I had ten or twenty works-in-progress calling my name. I had energy, enthusiasm and ambition, but I lacked a real plan of attack.

On the first night at the Lake Shift, our hosts Colette Steer and Marta Straznicky threw us each a Lake Shift t-shirt and welcomed us to camp. Colette peformed a comedy set, poking fun at herself, poking fun at the camp experience and encouraging us not to take ourselves or our work too seriously. From there, Marta introduced us to the “Slow Professor” movement, encouraging us to slow down, to breathe, and to be gentle on ourselves. She encouraged us not to force it, overdo it or put too much pressure on our work. Listening to them, I was motivated to shelve my running list of ‘could dos’ and ‘should dos,’ to stop jumping from one task to another, and to instead set a few meaningful goals for the week. Without overthinking it, I decided I would:

Show up. Stay present. Stay off the internet during the day. Chip away at a chapter in the morning and a journal article in the afternoon, without jumping from task to task to task.  

On the first morning of work, I settled in at a table in the Main Lodge; a gorgeous lakeside dining room with bottomless coffee, birds chirping at the feeders and grad students plucking at their keyboards. I made a point to sit near a power outlet, and made a point to cover my ears when a fellow student blurted the WiFi password! Then, when the clock struck nine, I charged out of the gates! I wrote with a vengeance, writing a few quick vignettes and drawing energy from others. I was in the zone and in my glory … until 10am when I ran out of steam. An hour into the week-long writing retreat, I ran out of material, momentum and wherewithal. Shoot. I bottomed out, hit a lull, and wondered how I could hang in there for another five full days. Again, shoot.

Rather than jumping ahead to the next thing on my to do list, though, I held myself to my goals. I stayed put and stayed with the tension. I read things over, doodled, and thought about the project and my frustrations with it. I tried not to force it, and tried to be gentle on myself and on the work. Rather than switching to an easier task, I gave the project some breathing space. I gave myself space to be overwhelmed and space to struggle with what I was most wanted to say with my work.

I stayed put, stayed present, and stayed with the trouble. I took up Maggie Berg’s invitation to write as a way to think. I took time to puzzle and process, doodle and daydream. I drafted an outline and a mind-map, and I made connections between different parts of the project. Slowly but surely, I reconnected with the project and with myself. I also connected with others, chatting about our work, swimming, hiking, canoeing and eating cake. I stayed put and stayed present. I happily took the #thelakeshift, shifting my writing and shifting my thinking.

Janna Klostermann (@jannaKlos) is a PhD student in Carleton’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology. She is exploring the social organization of care/disability from the standpoint of care workers reaching their limits.