School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

The Lake Shift

Group photo of Lake Shift participants.2018

The Lake Shift is a thesis writing retreat for doctoral students only from Ontario universities. The first year was only a four day retreat in July 2016 at the Queen’s Biology Station on Lake Opinicon (a 50 minute drive north of Kingston). The retreat provided graduate students with structured time to write, workshops on tips for effective dissertation writing, opportunities to network with other graduate students and all in a beautiful location. The objective of the retreat was to enable graduate students to make substantial progress in writing their thesis and to develop foundations to maintain that momentum. The fringe benefits of The Lake Shift included swimming, boating, hiking and campfire conversations and make for a balance of the cerebral with the physical and social for a well-rounded experience.

Be sure to Tweet us with any photos using the hashtag #thelakeshift, and follow SGS on Twitter at @queensgradstudy!

Day 1 - Arrival Day

It’s a beautiful day in Kingston so there was a good chance that would hold true for Lake Opinicon and Queen’s University Biological Station (QUBS) which is 50 minutes north.  I was not disappointed.  I’d decided to head out early to give myself plenty of chance to set up, unpack my own things and yes relax and soak up the sun.   By 11am I was at QUBS, by 12.30pm I was done!  Hmm, do I go for a swim or just sit under the shade and wait.   The latter worked for me as I got to make a friend, Chippy. 

Now with the week going to be hot (according to the weather man), I slipped on a t.shirt, slapped on my hat, slid on my sunglasses and I sought shade.  I forgot to slop on the sunscreen though, so I didn’t live up to the great Australian saying of SLIP, SLOP, SLAP, SEEK and SLIDE!  Hopefully my fellow Lakeshifters will do better than me.

So back to the campers arrival.  From around 2pm on they started to arrive, by car (Anthony and Ousmane first), by a fabulous motor bike (well done Britt) and the majority by bus.  Thank you to Queen’s Nick and Sanober for finding all our campers at Kingston VIA Rail station and not losing any one the way.  The bubble in my head was yelling out “the bus is here, the bus is here”.  Pathetic, but it was an emotional moment as that completed the arrivals.

After signing the waiver, they all headed off to find their respective cabins and to be back by 5pm for our introductory message on protocols of being at QUBS. Dinner came quickly with the sound of the bell and we had some very hungry campers!  Not surprising after a long day of travel and excitement.

Post dinner, Associate Dean, Marta Straznicky set the scene for the week of how each student could set their own goals for writing and for relaxing, finding down time and chatting with colleagues across disciplines and universities. Wow these students can talk!  The chit chat after the session was awesome and some even went off for a quick dip in the lake to cool off.

Till tomorrow

;Chippy the bus is here


Day 2 - Write that Paragraph

I woke up nice and early but apparently not as early as some! Azar lead a group for a walk/run to get the body ready for a good days work around 6am.   I however decided to wait a little longer than that and then it was all systems go.  Write the blog, check the emails (that’s right, not happening at our cabin) up at the dining hall and greet everyone for their first breakfast.  Now had I stayed back at my cabin a little longer, I would have seen a family of 11 Loons, some junior raccoons and although not at my cabin some deer.  I did get to see a Ground Hog later though.

The Breakfast bell went at 7.30am and I did notice a few used the chance to have a little sleep in. For those students who also have young kids, I am sure this is a luxury for you.  It didn’t take long though before everyone was finding their place to start the writing. From the dining hall, to the library, to outside on the benches, to in their cabins, it was happening everywhere.

Each day the students have the opportunity to write down their goal for the day (or writing session) so it was great to see so many up on the flip chart this morning.  We will share our favourite goal for the day - "Write THAT paragraph"

The morning went fast and before you knew it, the lunch bell went! Ok more food, yes.  The kitchen roster is working well, so I might just have to see who did what best throughout the week.

After lunch it was down to the shop at Chaffeys Lock to seek out some ear plugs (nope not here), so to help with the disappointment an ice cream was needed.  It seems others had the same idea and so there was Jill and Caillie chatting away (about their work of course) while eating rather large ice creams!  I am glad I saw what they had so I could reduce the size that I would order.

In the evening the group had an opportunity to do some yoga and also learn how to incorporate yoga to help your writing.  Amazing. Although I did not join the 33 students who participated I did watch as they went through their exercises.  I have never seen such a relaxed group of graduate students in my life.   I think it worked.   They all could have joined the choir too, as towards the end they did the “om”chant sequence and that was awesome.  I literally could feel the sound resonating through my body. Totally amazing. I think everyone will sleep well tonight.

Till tomorrow

Ice cream anyoneYoga time

Day 3 - Famous Last Words

Goal of the Day – make a start on a difficult section

So when I thought everyone would have a great sleep, we had an enormous storm just before 2am.  Thunder and lightning and lots of rain.  It did clear the air though and now the troops are back writing.

During the storm lots went on in mind – wow that is a lot of rain, I wonder where that lightning struck as that was close, those in the small cabins how are they faring and Britt I hope you motor bike is still standing!  I stayed in my bed though and then went back to sleep!

Breakfast conversation was about whether or not anyone had heard the storm.  Some were totally oblivious so that was good.   Others yes we did and wasn’t it awesome, noisy, the cabin shook and so on. What a great way to start a beautiful morning.

I decided to join the group and do my work up at the main lodge this morning.  Unfortunately I got distracted and ended up chatting to Adriana who is working on the cataloguing of the most amazing natural history flower pressing collection.   There are thousands of flower pressings here dating back to the mid 1800s.  Some of them need a little bit of work to help conserve them, some need photographing and some need their tags updated as they had previously been mis-tagged. With help from volunteers both from Queen’s and the local community, this is a collection that is going to be fantastic when completed.  Just one of the many things done here at QUBS.

Getting back to my own work, I sat in the main lodge amongst a lot of grad students.  There was typing, thoughtful looks and in general a lot of work happening. All very peaceful though which is idyllic for a place like QUBS.

Lunch time saw the chatting of who is researching what, what has been accomplished so far and some how can I get passed this section or at least start. So the goal of the day is – make a start on a difficult section.  You need to do it at some stage so why not now without the usual distractions.


Garter snake

After lunch many took the opportunity to go for a swim or try out canoeing.  It was great to see those who know how to canoe put up their hand to take those less confident.  From the chat and at times squeals I think it went well.

For many of us today,other animals came out to see us.  Otters (or was it a muskrat – the debate continues), deer and of course snakes.  Yup I thought I might get through the week without seeing any snakes but today I got up close and personal to one in the water and one on land.  Hopefully no more close encounters for me this week.

After dinner (yes it does seem that we are eating a lot, but they feed us well), it was time for a quick dip in the lake and then get ready for the presentation on “Editing” by Susan Korba, Director of Queen’s Student Academic Success Services. Writing is hard enough, but editing is what gives it the polish.  Great session and great questions by our grad students.

Then many got back to their writing. The weather had cooled a little so it was an opportune time to write for an hour or so more.  Others chatted and went down to the camp fire. The boys at Earl have made a great circle round the fire for everyone to sit. Amazing what you can do with some blocks of wood.

What a great day.

Till tomorrow

Day 4 - Let Go of the Fear

Goal of the Day – Let go of the Fear

It’s amazing how the storm the other night has cleared the air. The morning was glorious – sun out, blue sky, a coolness in the air.  Perfect conditions for getting down to writing that next piece.  I looked at the board this morning and one goal really resonated with me – “Let go of the Fear”.   Now this could take several meanings, the fear of writing, the fear of graduate studies, the fear from the imposter syndrome and so much more. For me I am not doing the thesis, but we all have a share of fears. Mine is snakes and spiders but that was yesterdays story.  Today it is about the writing and doing the PhD.

In a space such as the Lake Shift it is an opportunity for students to realise they are not alone in this endeavor. It is a chance to chat with people outside your field, your University and your own social group.  It is a chance to totally be subjective and at the same time create a new community.

I love to watch the week progress from arrival day to midway to the end.  Offloading fears and sometimes frustrations with new people can be quite invigorating.  We should all try from time to time.  At the Lake Shift no one is judging you as we are all going through the same process – learning how to finish that chapter, re-energise ourselves both mentally and physically, realizing we can do this and why we wanted to do it in the first place.

So my little moment there was leading into where our students are writing.  You can see from the photos below that sometimes it is inside, others outside and you know what – whatever works for you, go for it

Till tomorrow

wrting outsidewriting in the librarywriting on the deckwrting in the dining room

Day 5 - "Do I Really Need It?"

Goal of the Day – Rechecking what I said and asking myself “Do I really need it?”

Well everyone is well and truly in the swing of writing.  On returning from picking up the obligatory celebratory cakes for tonight's dinner, I walked into the Dining hall to see so many Lake Shifters, laptops open, some with head phones on and others just typing away.  Many had emailed thanks for sending them the slides from Susan’s editing session on Tuesday, so I guess some were in that process.

So the goal I liked today was “Do I really need it?”  Love it. For those writing their thesis it is the thought of how much is too much or just enough.  How much is nice but not necessary and could perhaps leave the reader with too many questions (as discussed in the editing session). 

This phrase could also be used in the context of distractions.  Do I really need to be connected to the internet or wifi 24/7?  Being at QUBS has shown us all, how much more productive and relaxed we can be without it.  Just a bit of food for thought there.

the cakewritingwriting and driving!

Now I mentioned a celebratory cake for dinner. Yep it is part of the experience at a writing camp to get that cake at the end.  After all you have all worked so hard and deserve to reward yourself. 

After dinner some took to the canoes to paddle over to Chaffy’s Lock for an ice cream.  Some walked there and some we drove there.  Others went straight to Earl Cottage and the only place on camp where you can light a bonfire.  I have heard some great conversations have gone on around the fire and one hopes that can continue post Lake Shift.

It’s hard to believe that we only have one half day left.    I will write more about that tomorrow.

Till then….