School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

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Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

Natalia Mukhina

Recently, Shamik Sen, a graduate student in Neuroscience, returned from Tanzania, where he was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. He reached the summit, which is at 5,895 meters above sea level, to raise funds for mental illness stigma awareness. Prior to this courageous adventure, Sen had created a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to support Addiction and Mental Health Services Kingston (AMHS-KFLA).

“I’ve partnered with AMHS-KFLA for my thesis research on mental illness recovery with Dr. Roumen Milev and Dr. Heather Stuart, who also is the Bell Canada Research Chair on Mental Health. I wanted to raise funds to improve the quality and quantity of stigma-related workshops offered by AMHS-KFLA in the community for people living with mental illness.”

Sen has been engrossed in mental health research since he began studying life sciences at Queen’s. “I have always been interested in the brain. There is still so much about the brain that we really don’t know! Neuroscience is an challenging, yet exciting and rapidly evolving field. Yet, regarding mental health particularly, there was very little in my curriculum that covered the individual’s psychological well-being. I was intrigued and perplexed at why something that affects all of us receives less attention than it deserves.”

Thinking back on his collaboration with AMHS-KFLA, Sen recalls the tremendous response from the people with mental health issues who attended the workshops and educational programs, which made him feel empowered and motivated. Sen explains that there is public stigma concerning mental health, and individuals who are suffering internalize this stigma and public attitude, which eventually becomes debilitating. The more efforts we put into overcoming both public and self-stigma, the easier the path to recovery for people with mental illnesses.

Why do people donate to support Sen’s climbing expeditions? I asked Sen this question to learn, in his opinion, what feelings this initiative evokes in members of the public. “Let me provide a personal example,” responds Sen after a pause. “After I launched the campaign, a person reached out to me and shared a story that happened with their family member with a mental illness. This individual did not receive sufficient care because of the stigma within the family. The person who had reached me felt deeply frustrated: ‘I saw that this happened first-hand, but I did nothing out of fear of judgement.’ I think the same feelings are common amongst many of us. We’ve seen something happen, but we’ve turned a blind eye, and we’ve become a part of that stigmatization without even realizing.”

“I’d like to believe that the majority of support I’ve received is because the donors, probably, have looked at my initiative and had a bit of self-reflection on people who are close to them.”

Sen’s current research is looking at how stigma affects recovery in patients with mental illnesses, specifically mood disorders. “Sometimes a patient goes to psychiatrist who - as a trained medical professional - has learned a lot of things. What frequently happens next? The psychiatrists try to fit the patient into the things they’ve learned like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. The most challenging thing for me is to be able to shut my mind off and start listening to people. I must listen to the greatest extent I can. This is the trickiest part in my field.”

In the future, Sen sees himself as a part of the healthcare reform movement. He argues that many people talk about making changes in healthcare, but the term “changes” is still very loosely defined. What are these changes? How and why should they be made? Sen is going to become familiar with the healthcare industry to learn how to make a tangible change in terms of healthcare reform.

“How can we address the changes in healthcare efficiently? We need to have more crosstalk between medical professionals, patients, and industry in order to come up with a unified solution. I’ve done some training within the scientific research, and I have patient experience, but I need to obtain the business vision to make an impact on healthcare. This is my short-term plan.”

Let’s imagine now that we are nearby Mount Kilimanjaro, where Sen has undertaken his climbing expedition. Sen states that it was more challenging mentally than physically. What did he learn about himself after coming down from the mountain?

“The last day before reaching the summit, our group got up before midnight. We all had 3-4 hours of sleep because you were anxious about how this all would be. And we reached the summit at 7:45 am climbing during 8 hours in the -15 Celsius condition, heavy winds, unforgiving pain, and no light. All we could see were stars and our boots. We had no concept of how far the summit was and what time it was. I could control just one foot in front of the other. When I finally reached the summit, it blew my mind that I could accomplish that by simply keeping one foot in front of the other.”

“I wish I could tell everybody, ‘Hey, if you are persistently keeping doing what you love and excited about, you will get to the summit. As for me, I hope to continue putting one foot in front of the other as long as I can to achieve my goals. One of them is to eliminate mental health stigma.”

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When Knowledge Fights Fear


Natalia Mukhina

Paralyzing fear. This was the only emotion I experienced 5 years ago after hearing from my doctor that I had cancer. For me, it was a “Thing-That-Must-Not-Be-Named.”  Now, in the lead-up to World Cancer Day 2017, Queen’s PhD candidates, Mathieu Crupi and Piriya Yoganathan, who are involved in cancer research and community outreach, tell me about the importance of overcoming the fear of cancer and what grad students can do to reduce the impact cancer has on individuals, communities and families. As a cancer survivor and patient advocate, I believe in their ability to make a difference in the fight against cancer.

Mathieu and Piriya lead the Research Information Outreach Team (RIOT), a group of Queen’s undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students who work in cancer research and volunteer in raising awareness in the Kingston community about the progress and promise of cancer research. RIOT is affiliated with the Canadian Cancer Society, the largest national health charity, whose mission is to eradicate cancer and enhance the quality of life of those living with cancer.

“The Kingston chapter of RIOT started in 2014 and officially became a Queen’s club in the fall of 2016,” says Piriya. To date, RIOT has arranged many community outreach activities to highlight the latest advances in cancer research, and to raise the profile of cancer research at Queen’s.

“RIOT has organized a range of different outreach sessions, such as interactive workshops, hands-on activities and presentations,” Mathieu adds. “We also post online blogs, write for the local media and produce educational videos. In short, we use every opportunity to involve the local community in RIOT’s programs.”

Why does RIOT believe in the importance of educating people on cancer-related topics? “The vision of the Canadian Cancer Society is to create a world where no Canadian fears cancer,” explains Mathieu. “It is difficult for us to think about cancer, when it’s a disease that will intersect with all of our lives. To help get over the fear, it is important to look at cancer from another side. If you understand cancer at the molecular level and how it works - that aspect is not scary, it’s fascinating. I encourage people to keep asking more questions about cancer and figure out what is going on in the field, how scientists target cancer cells, treat disease symptoms, what new biomarkers appear, etc.”

Many of RIOT’s events are designed to educate children. “We have worked together with the Boys and Girls Club of Kingston & Area, and also with the local chapter of the Girl Guides of Canada,” Mathieu says. “During our educational sessions, we teach children and teens about basic cancer cell biology, the risk factors associated with cancer and how they can protect themselves. For example, we’ve had a session about skin cancer and why it is important to wear sunscreen and the ABCDE rule to evaluate moles. In 2017, we will be likely visiting more high schools to talk about what we are doing here at Queen’s.”

Piriya and Mathieu are both proud of RIOT’s annual “Let’s Talk Cancer” initiative that started at Queen’s two years ago. This is an educational symposium where high school students have a chance to visit the campus and anatomy museum for a day and learn about cancer research. In the spring of 2016, RIOT attracted about 250 students from local schools to take part in the “Let’s Talk Cancer” event. “We will continue expanding our youth outreach programs with different organizations. It is incredibly rewarding to interact with them,” Piriya says.

While medicine has made impressive progress in detecting and treating cancer in recent years, the battle with such an enigmatic disease as cancer has not been won yet. “Cancer is a very complex disease, with many unanswered questions,” Piriya says. “One of our main messages that we would like to promote is that cancer is not one disease. It is a collection of diseases. More research is required to better address all those forms. The more we understand cancer, the better we can prevent, detect or treat it.”

In such circumstances, cancer research is the master-key to success in outperforming the disease. The inaugural Daffodil Gala, the charity event the RIOT is organizing in partnership with the Canadian Cancer Society, aims to support the Queen’s Transdisciplinary Training Program in Cancer Research. “All of us in Kingston RIOT hope that the Gala helps us raise funds for this unique program,” Mathieu says, and Piriya agrees, adding that the program gives a unique chance to those students who strive to succeed in cancer research. 

What Makes a House a Home

What makes a house a home

Natalia Mukhina

Early one Saturday morning, when most students were still asleep after a hard week at school, some Queen’s grads from the Civil Engineering Department went to Napanee to build a house. It was a multicultural crowd, with students from India, China, Canada, Nepal, the US, and led by Titilope-Oluwa Adebola from Nigeria. They were going to work together with Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit organization that mobilizes volunteers and community partners to build affordable housing for low-income families.

“For all of us, it was the first hands-on experience in building and renovation,” says Titilope, the first External Event Coordinator for graduate students in the Civil Engineering Department. “Moreover, half of our team is international students who came to Canada very recently, just a month ago. It was their first external event in a new status of Queen’s grads.”

Titilope is a second-year PhD student with an interest in water pipe rehabilitation. She chose Queen’s for its solid reputation in research. Yet, she believes in the present-day world grad students should not lock themselves within the ivory tower of academia.

“Volunteering helps realize that our education is not just for us. It is all for other people. Essentially, every research focuses on people and makes an impact on many lives. We need to understand how people live,” Titilope stresses, explaining why she is so passionate about promoting the active engagement of students within their communities.

Habitat for Humanity Greater Kingston & Frontenac is part of a national organization that works, according to its mission, to build a world where everyone has a safe and decent place to live. The charity builds two houses a year for residents in the Kingston area who meet the program requirements. “These houses are not for free,” says Titilope, “but they are made affordable for those who live in poor housing and wish to cooperate with Habitat in making their dreams truth.”

That day in Napanee, the grads worked a full shift alongside Habitat staff and the family that will live in the house. Following the instructions of the staff, the students cleaned, smoothed, trowelled, and painted the surfaces inside the house. “Overall, such duties look more relevant to the civil engineering students than a bake sale,” smiles Titilope and adds that they all performed as a team. She considers the sense of engagement and collaboration the volunteers get as the key outcome of a good community-outreach event.

What makes house a home, aside from a building with four walls and a roof? Obviously, the people who live in the house and give it a personal touch. Titilope’s approach to volunteering is in the same vein: “Volunteering helps communities, but it also helps students.” It gives the grads, who mostly arrived to Kingston from other places, a feeling of community and a sense of home where everybody matters.

Titilope emphasizes that any volunteering experience outside the campus expands students’ knowledge of real life. Currently, she is thinking about another volunteering event for her departmental buddies: “I don’t know so far what it will be, but definitely it will be an event that will be of interest for both the grads and the local community.”

Double Duty

Double Duty article banner for

Karl Hardy

“It’s a real challenge that today’s job market demands experience in your field from the very start,” says Tabitha Renaud, a PhD candidate in the department of History here at Queen’s.

Alongside her graduate studies, Tabitha has been a longtime volunteer with the Kingston Association of Museums, Art Galleries and Historic Sites (KAM), where she has sat on the Board of Directors for three years and served as President of this association for 2015-6. Through KAM she works with Kingston’s 30 museums, galleries and historic sites on all sorts of exciting collaborative projects that benefit cultural heritage for the people of Kingston and the wider world.

“Volunteering can provide valuable experience in your field, great references and networking possibilities,” said Tabitha. “In the non-profit sector, in particular, volunteers are invaluable and so you are doing a service to your community and helping your own career goals simultaneously.”

She recognizes The Museum of Health Care for giving her first entry into Kingston’s heritage community in 2011. “It is a wonderful museum that is always looking for volunteers to deliver programming to children and families,” she says. “I would also love to thank the staff and member sites of the Kingston Association of Museums, Galleries and Historic Sites for giving me so many wonderful opportunities over the last few years. I would like to thank all my mentors on the Board of Directors for their guidance in the field of cultural heritage. I am grateful to all the fantastic people in this heritage community as it is an absolute blast to collaborate with them all!”

Tabitha also volunteers as one of the organizers of the annual Kingston Regional Heritage Fair, which functions like a “science fair” but for history projects for grade school children. She has also supported Beyond Classrooms Kingston, in which teachers take their grade school classes into an alternative learning space such as a museum or gallery for a full week with expert guest speakers, programming and journaling with artifacts.

These experiences augment her current graduate research and teaching, which centers on the earliest encounters of the Americas between aboriginal communities and European explorers. Her PhD dissertation, supervised by Dr. Jane Errington, focuses on how individuals communicated without words at first contact. In addition to her off-campus volunteer commitments, Tabitha has learned to balance involvement at Queen’s in both departmental service and wider service to the SGPS. She was President of the Graduate History Student’s Association in 2014-5 and was an SGPS Councillor for several years representing history students.

“It is really important not to overextend yourself. When you genuinely love your volunteer work and visibly recognize the difference your contributions make it is very easy to take on all sorts of exciting projects all at once,” she says. “I have learned to be realistic about what extra commitments I can handle while still maintaining my academic standing and mental health. It is very important to be honest with yourself and to manage your time carefully. Volunteer opportunities are always available and you can stagger them throughout your life as you have time.”

Tabitha would like to let everyone know about several ongoing volunteer opportunities, including:

Also, the Kingston Regional Heritage Fair will take place this year on May 12th at Queen’s West Campus. The fair is always looking for as many volunteers as possible to help judge projects and to assist with interactive booths and workshops for the children. The volunteer form is available online.

Dissertation Bootcamp

Dissertation Boot Camp - a writing community

Adam Ali

Reading Week presents a chance each year for many graduate students to take a small break from their respective classes as well as teaching fellowships and assistantships. Many of them use the one-week hiatus to visit family and friends, or book a last minute ticket south to escape the frigid temperatures and snowy conditions that characterize a typical February in Canada.

For 55 master’s and doctoral students, however, four days free from classes and teaching represented a rare opportunity to make some significant progress on their writing, and they took full advantage by signing up for Dissertation Boot Camp, which took place in the Harry Potter room at Douglas Library.

The 43 doctoral and 12 master’s students braved record snowfalls, facility closures, and fluctuating room temperatures, transcending these various challenges through a strong desire to make important strides on their writing projects, which ranged from doctoral dissertations to journal articles, book chapters, and master’s theses.

Dissertation Boot Camp, a project run by the School of Graduate Studies at Queen’s University, has seen its popularity grow since its beginnings in 2012, of which a small cohort of 12 students attended. Since then, the endeavour has blossomed and now includes two yearly camps in February and June as well as Dissertation-on-the-Lake, which will occur for the third time this August.

With increasing constraints that includes the pressure to publish, take on teaching fellowships, as well as conducting unique, individual research, time to completion is becoming a central concern that significantly affects the well-being of graduate students throughout Queen’s University. This is what makes events such as Dissertation Boot Camp so valuable to providing space, time, and energy dedicated solely to helping students complete a significant portion of their writing, no matter what point they are at in their dissertation or thesis.  

Those who took advantage of the free registration also had an opportunity to attend daily workshops in the morning and afternoon, which were put on by Student Academic Success Services. These sessions were put in place to assist the students in navigating the often challenging and difficult terrain of writing as well as offering helpful strategies for setting realistic goals and enhancing motivational steps towards the writing process.

The majority of the days, however, were spent writing in two three-hour blocks, one in the morning and the afternoon. With the Harry Potter room booked off specifically for the Dissertation Boot Camp participants, students were able to select one of the many stalls available throughout the space, form their own writing “habitat”, and get down to business. In addition, coffee, tea, drinks, and snacks were made available throughout each day, which allowed the participants to re-energize as well as take small breaks from their screen time and stretch their legs.

The first day of February’s Boot Camp got off to a snowy start, with a record fall that led to the closure of Douglas Library in the early afternoon. Many of the students persevered, simply moving their writing to Stauffer for the rest of the day, while others went home early to get a head-start on their shovelling. Fortunately, the weather cooperated throughout the rest of the week, allowing the students to zero-in on their respective projects. 

The participants were also treated to fresh, delicious lunches that were prepared by Old Farm Fine Foods, a Queen’s neighbourly establishment that cooks locally produced, organic food. On the third day of the Boot Camp, a free yoga class was put on during the lunch hour by a certified instructor that helped the students re-invigorate both their minds and bodies after two and a half days of writing.

Dissertation Boot Camp also offers a rare opportunity to meet students from other departments at Queen’s. With many graduate students usually isolated in their own areas of study for most of the year, the Harry Potter room became a space where diverse research and ideas were exchanged amongst the boot campers, who also expressed the importance of knowing that dissertation and thesis writing is a common struggle that stretches across all academic disciplines.

At the conclusion of the boot camp, many of the students left with more confidence after having completed an important piece of their writing. Many also spoke of garnering a new set of skills that will allow them to maximize the use of their time dedicated to writing once their other graduate student responsibilities resumed.

The completion of significant work, formulation of new writing skills, and the camaraderie sparked amongst peers who all have a common purpose are what make graduate student-centered endeavours like Dissertation Boot Camp so valuable, and we look forward to see such projects continue being offered by the School of Graduate Studies

Navigating Your Future

Map to help navigate

Anthony Pugh

Finding Work Outside of Academia: Dr Anne Krook’s advice for Graduate Students

On Wednesday 21st October 2015, Anne Krook gave a lecture for Queen’s graduate students on how to find work in the non-academic job market. Dr. Krook is an experienced consultant who has worked for both corporate and non-profit employers. She began her career as an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, which gives her equally strong insight into the academic world. Her impressive background in the corporate world, not-for-profit organisations and academia means that she offers a unique perspective on how graduate students should approach a job-search.

Dr. Krook is a highly effective presenter who strikes the right mix between encouraging graduate students and fairly representing the amount of work involved in finding a career. While a job-search can be long and occasionally emotionally draining, Dr. Krook shows that it is manageable for each student in the room and is something that will eventually end in success. She does this by recommending a long but methodical process involving the identification of skills, document preparation and networking. Each step builds logically onto the other and her methodology imposes structure on a process that may initially seem daunting and chaotic.

One of the most helpful aspects to Dr. Krook’s lecture was that she recommends a skills-based approach to graduate students. She says that all jobs require skills but many do not require specific credentials. This is encouraging for students who may not have much experience working outside of school or who may think that they are boxed into a very specific group of jobs because of their degree. The skills that students have can be learned through prior experiences at school, in employment or through extra-curricular activities or volunteering. By completing a comprehensive spreadsheet on skills learned through every experience, a student seeking a job in the non-academic market will learn that they have a great deal to offer to prospective employers. This means that they will apply for job opportunities that they might not otherwise have considered and that they will be more confident and effective at finding work.

Another useful feature of Dr. Krook’s lecture was her ability to break down common myths about the non-academic job market. One of these is that for-profit companies are worse places to work than government or not-for-profit organisations because the profit motive trumps work-environment or ethics. Dr. Krook uses her own experience to show that this is not true and that graduate students should not be prejudiced against these opportunities. Another myth is that a graduate student would not be using their degree by taking these non-academic jobs. Instead, by looking at the experience of getting a degree as the acquisition of skills, Dr. Krook shows that people who complete graduate studies will always be using their degrees regardless of the job title.

This article has only highlighted a few of the ways that Dr. Krook’s lecture was helpful. She gave further useful insight into the use of LinkedIn, resume writing, and the interview process.  In total, the lecture was useful and encouraging for any student worried about finding work after degree completion. The non-academic job market may at times seem like an impenetrable haze but this lecture went some way towards breaking that fog.

Health, History, and Blankets

Health, History & Blankets - A transformative teaching experience

Natalia Mukhina

Graduate students go through a transformative teaching experience with the blanket exercise

Turtle Island. The original name for North America, which comes from an Aboriginal creation story. The blanket exercise usually starts with a map, providing a picture of where various tribal groups were living on Turtle Island at the time of the first European contact. “I thought that we would be going to play some kind of game,” says Sarah, one of the HLTH 101 undergraduate students. “What province is more like a turtle on the map, or something. However, it’s not the game. It is our common history.”

HLTH 101 Social Determinants of Health is a course with more than 700 undergrads enrolled, 17 graduate students who serve as teaching assistants, and Professor Elaine Power, the course instructor. This year, the blanket exercise is proving an important technique in an arsenal of teaching tools to demonstrate how colonialism and racism affect the health of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. As for graduate teaching assistants, facilitating the exercise was a transformative teaching experience.

“The Blanket Exercise is an interactive learning experience that explores the 500-year relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada during just an hour or about,” explains Ed Bianchi from KAIROS Canada, the organization that developed the exercise. Together with the representatives of Queen’s Four Directions Aboriginal Centre, community members, and Elaine, Ed helped conduct the preliminary educational session for HLTH 101 teaching assistants to train them in how to facilitate the exercise.

The Blanket Exercise begins with blankets being arranged on the floor to represent ‎Canada before the arrival of Europeans. The participants take on the roles of Indigenous peoples in Canada, and some Europeans. While a narrator reads from a script, other participants begin to interact with those on the blankets. As the script ‎traces the history of the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, it becomes visible that the relationship has been gradually eroded. This is obvious by the blankets, which are folded to be smaller and smaller as the story unravels.

The exercise was an informative and highly emotional experience for all graduate teaching assistants, and some of them couldn’t hold back tears during a debriefing session: “We cannot UN-know what we now know.”

TAs report that undergrads perceived such a non-standard way of teaching with enthusiasm. “The exercise sparked conversation around this topic between students even after the exercise and outside of the classroom,” Alzahra Hudani emphasizes. “It is a good first step to reaching out to Queen’s undergraduate students, as they are our future leaders, advocates, and change-makers.”

“All my students had a powerful reaction to the exercise,” echoes Madison Hainstock. “As an interactive way of learning, the experience brought some of the historical facts to life.  All students recommended that this exercise be performed in future HLTH 101 classes.”

In eleven years of teaching the HLTH 101 course, Dr. Power found the blanket exercise was more effective than anything else she has done to teach students about how colonization has impacted the health of Indigenous people. “I believe it is so effective because it activates the emotions, along with factual knowledge. I was struck with how receptive the students were, both undergrads and grad teaching assistants, to the exercise and how engaged they were. No one was bored!” 

The blanket exercise will become a permanent part of HLTH 101 tutorials.

Dressed to Impress and Succeed


Natalia Mukhina

“I’ve spent plenty of time compiling my digital portfolio with CVs and references,” says Nicole, MSc student in Health Science, “but it is a photo that will be the first thing my potential boss will see when they download my profile, right? That is why I am here.”

I met Nicole in a line for free professional headshots, which had been organized by the Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) in their SGPS Professional Makeover Week. This October SGPS offered three special events to help students prepare for conferences, networking events, and job interviews. In addition to headshot session, students could take part in special women’s and men’s tailoring events to find out how to look sharp and professional. For that purpose, SGPS invited business partners Chris James Kingston and Eph Apparel to provide one-on-one services with rack professional items.

While you should not judge a book by its cover, most employers, interviewers, and colleagues will judge you by your appearance. Students totally understand it. To give just one example, the headshot session started at 11 am, and I was 54th in line, having come only half an hour later. “I’ll come to a clothing session,” smiles Julia, PhD student in Computing. “I have to speak at a congress soon; I did my best preparing for the presentation, and want to look my best as well!”

“If you want to be accepted as a professional, dress and look professional,” Mark Asfar says.  “That does not mean you should wear a $1,000 suit when you, as a current student or recent graduate, obviously do not have a lot of money.  In fact, there is a range of dress that is acceptable, depending on the situation.”

Asfar is an organizer of the Makeover Week, and knows what he speaks about. As a VP Professional at SGPS, he is managing the event for the second time. Last year, he focused specifically on law and male business students, because they usually follow a strict dress code. “However, I received feedback, and it confirmed that such an event could be helpful for all students.”

It is not enough just to be dressed well. “Wear something you are comfortable in,” underlines Mark. “If you are distracted, say, by a jacket, which is a little tight, you won’t be able to focus on what is truly important – your presentation, or answers during job interview. During the Makeover Week, students can both choose styles and have clothes customized if they want.”

We know that there is no second chance to make a great first impression. However, Queen’s students will have another chance to take some professional looking pictures. SGPS is going to hold another Professional Makeover Week next year. Stay tuned!

Dissertation on the Lake


Natalia Mukhina

“Dissertation on the Lake” helps graduate students find inner peace to unleash their writing talents

There was a brisk, lively atmosphere at the corner of Union and Division Street early in the morning of August 24. About 30 Queen’s graduate students from various disciplines were getting together to set out on their journey to the Elbow Lake Environmental Education Centre (ELEEC). The writing retreat titled “Dissertation on the Lake” was going to start on the shores of the lake for the second time since it had been pioneered in 2014 by the School of Graduate Studies. New campers had to take themselves away for a “five-days-four-nights-long” camp to push their dissertation projects forward.

Say “No” to distractions of everyday life!

Let’s be frank: graduate students’ lives are full of challenges, which can range from presenting at conferences to leading classes for the first time as instructors or teaching assistants. However, one of the most intimidating things for most grads may be writing research proposals and dissertations. This practice demands not only a high standard of knowledge and research talent, but time to concentrate on the topic, silence, and isolation. For grads, writing is the sort of duty that they cannot put off doing until the last minute.

Unlike Marcel Proust, who wrote in a cork-lined room all day long (and not dissertations, actually), grads mostly have no choice but to write whenever and wherever they can. Moreover, the same Proust did not have to write in the age of Facebook and Netflix... Lucky man! Nowadays, it is the elimination of distractions that seems to be the Challenge (with a capital letter ‘C’).

What did participants at the camp-2015 find out upon arrival at the ELEEC from the sweltering heat of the summer city? The coolness of the lake, a peaceful and quiet environment, and a lot of places to work on a dissertation away from the daily routine.

The best place to write, ever

Some campers preferred to set up in the central lodge, which simultaneously served as a gathering space for meals and recreation. Others were dispersed around the ELLEC, using their cabins and porches as work stations, or sitting in the shade of trees and on the lively, sandy beach. During that “writing package holiday”, nobody - except for the permanent residents of the ELEEC, like deer, chipmunks, and hedgehogs - is surprised to meet a person with a laptop somewhere deep in the forest.

“The fresh air, beautiful conservation area and the tranquility of the environment were all I needed to focus my thoughts on what I was doing,” says Raheleh Barkhordari, a PhD student in Management.

“Dissertation on the Lake” proves that writing a dissertation can be an enjoyable experience. “While I was making good writing progress at Queen's, I felt that a change of scene and the ability to focus on writing without the distractions of working in my laboratory would help me be more productive,” says Gillian Mackey, a PhD candidate in the Department of Chemistry. “The ability to move around to new locations, the lodge, my cabin, the docks, gave me new energy for working!”

Can such a relaxing site motivate campers to find into a writing routine? “Definitely, yes!” exclaims Yi Mei, a PhD Candidate in the Faculty of Education. “My initial plan was too ambitious, and I am very satisfied with my work in that week. The advantages of the camp are a lack of distractions, clear goals of writing, and a devoted block of time for writing.”

Camp is over, texts remain

Writing a thesis may look like a Sisyphus, endlessly moving a great weight uphill. Graduate students struggle everyday with hard-to-get-started introductions, tedious drafts, and endless revisions. However, when we are surrounded by other grads focusing on their projects, it inspires us. Just sitting together with “writing buddies”, in silence, seems to be more productive than working in total isolation.

Gillian, for example, exceeded her planned writing goal and wrote a first draft of a whole chapter (!) during the week. “While this was partly because I found that I had already written some of the material, I attribute this mainly to the productive writing environment.” Raheleh agrees, adding that she completed about 40% of her whole work just in that week.

Over five days of regular writing practice, campers have processed and conceptualized plenty of material. An intensive daily training in writing reinforced one of the key asset of graduate students - a habit of writing on the schedule, without gaps. Probably, this is the most significant advantage of the camp, that writing comes into daily routine as a natural course of things. The camp is over, but the habit to write every single day remains. Just use this habit in day-to-day life, and the dissertation will go like a clockwork. There are no magic wands and conjurations to propel a dissertation. This secret is surprisingly obvious, but it works!

Podcasting PhD's

Podcasting PhD's - Curiosity Driven brings graduate student research to CFRC and beyond

Karl Hardy

Graduate students regularly face questions about what they actually “do” in the course of research and study towards their degrees. For those outside the academy, and indeed even from differing faculties, there are often misconceptions about what graduate student research is, how is gets done, and what it's "for." “Curiosity Driven” is a short radio and podcast documentary series about Queen’s graduate students’ research that aims to present their work in an accessible, entertaining format for a wide audience.

The project is the result of collaboration between Vee Blackbourn, who did her PhD in English, and Matthew Scribner, who completed both his MA and PhD, also in English here at Queen’s. During Matthew’s time serving as President of the Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS), he approached CFRC, our local campus and community radio station (101.9 FM), about expanding the Free Queen’s program, where graduate and professional students would give talks in the community on some of their more practical aspects of their expertise. Vee and another PhD student in Biology, Roslyn Dakin, were already in the early stages of developing a show on graduate student research. Development of the show wound up outlasting Matthew’s term as SGPS president and Rosyln’s time at Queen’s, but four 30 minute episodes have been produced. Two have already aired, and the remaining pieces will be broadcast during CFRC’s usual “Wild Card” timeslot on Wednesday September 16 from 4-5pm.

“Popularizing research is always a struggle that academics face. It can be difficult to communicate specialized and nuanced discoveries to the general public. And yet, the rise of media like TED Talks suggests that the public has an appetite for fresh research, delivered directly by the researchers,” said Matt, who studied medieval literature and was supervised by Margaret Pappano. “I believe that graduate students can help satiate this appetite, and that a podcast is a great, modern format to showcase their new and exciting research. Of course, it helps when that "podcast" is broadcast to thousands of Kingstonians over the radio.”

“Certainly when I was doing my English PhD, people I encountered had no idea of what research might mean in that context--there is no lab and there are no experiments in English, so what do we do? just read? work in archives?” says Vee. “At the same time, I noticed that when academics are consulted as experts and interviewed on TV or radio, their work is often reduced to the one aspect relevant to the topic at hand and their findings are portrayed as the result of a straightforward, I would say instrumentalist, working process.” In addition to her volunteer work with CFRC, Vee also produced documentaries about mental health at Queen’s and the Kingston Derby Girls while studying South African literature of the transition from apartheid to democracy under the supervision of Chris Bongie.

“We named the show Curiosity Driven because we wanted to emphasize that curiosity itself is valuable in a research context--it's what keeps researchers going, what makes them tick, and what leads to all kinds of research outcomes,” Vee continues. “In an increasingly instrumentalist and austerity-driven research funding climate, it's important to counter ideas that curiosity and curiosity-based research is merely self-indulgent.”

The first two episodes featured Rachel Wayne, PhD candidate in Psychology, and Alexandra Pederson, a PhD candidate in Geography and Planning, and are available on Curiosity Driven’s website. This week’s episode profiles Gentry Hanks, PhD candidate in Geography & Planning, with future shows in development for upcoming broadcast.