In July 2018, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs sponsored two PhD students, Becky Anderson and Tariq Aziz, to attend the Lake Shift writing retreat. Hosted by Queen’s University, the Lake Shift is a thesis writing retreat for doctoral students from Ontario universities held at the Queen’s Biology Station on Lake Opinicon. I checked-in with Becky and Tariq to hear about their experience at the Lake Shift:
Tell us a bit about yourself. What program are you in and what is your research focus?
Becky: I’m a PhD candidate in the Department of English Language & Literature. My research looks at fantastic fictional worlds, like Middle-earth, Westeros, or the Wizarding World, across different mediums to consider what elements make these worlds convincing and immersive and how these elements change across mediums. My research then applies these elements to create convincing and immersive worlds for training-based simulation games.
Tariq: I just finished my PhD in the Ecohydrology Research Group at University of Waterloo, and my research focused on economic valuation of ecosystem services at regional scales.
Why did you apply to attend the Lake Shift writing retreat?
Becky: I applied to attend the Lake Shift for two reasons: (1) because I write best when I’m in a group environment. (2) I actively seek out opportunities to connect with fellow graduate colleagues because I value the opportunity to connect with someone in the same or different discipline as I am. We usually find a shared research interest or discover a shared interest or hobby!
Tariq: I liked the idea to go to a place full of nature to write my thesis, which was already focused on nature.
What were your writing goals for the week, and what did you hope to get out of the experience?
Becky: My writing goal for the week was to start and finish an editing overhaul for my second chapter. I hoped to come out of the Lake Shift with a clear direction of where I needed to revise and an action plan for putting those revisions into place.
Tariq: My goals for the week were to review the chapters of my thesis critically and improve the language.
For those who are curious what a writing retreat is like, what can you tell us about the agenda/your schedule for the week?
Becky: The agenda for the week consisted of morning and afternoon writing blocks, broken up by lunchtime and dinnertime. There were optional workshops, as well as free time. However, we were encouraged to modify the schedule to suit our work habits. For me, my productive writing hours are before 2:00pm. So, I would write for the morning block, break for lunch, return to work for my writing for half of the afternoon writing portion, and then practice some self-care (hiking, swimming, canoeing etc.)
Tariq: It was quite flexible. I had my own schedule: I used to rise early in the morning and breakfast time was 7:30am. Most of the times I was sitting in the lodge for next three hours and this was the most productive time. Lunch was at noon followed by a nap, and then I was fresh to start the work again. The evenings were a fun time: canoeing, volleyball, fishing, campfire, playing cards, chatting and other exciting things!
Over the course of the week, you had eight 3-hour writing blocks. That’s a lot of time devoted to writing! What did you accomplish on your thesis during this time?
Becky: In addition to some nit-picky tasks like ensuring my in-text citations were accurately reflected in the Works Cited, I was able to produce a very detailed reverse outline of my first chapter! I then started to map out that reverse outline onto cue-cards so that when I returned home, I could physically rearrange paragraphs based on the flow of my argument.
Tariq: I reviewed [a] few chapters of [my] thesis critically, [which helped me accomplish] my goal: I successfully defended my THESIS! Additionally, I set a healthy routine for myself—at least for next couple of weeks.
Lake Shift provided time to write, but also some sessions to help you with your thesis writing. What was the most valuable thing you learned that you think other students should consider when writing their thesis?
Becky: There are two valuable things I learned through my experiences at the Lake Shift:
1. When you don’t know how to approach a writing problem, reflect on what you’d tell your students, and then take your own advice. I struggled with how to approach revising my first dissertation chapter until the editing strategies workshop, where Susan Korba introduced the reverse outline method, a strategy I regularly teach to my students!
2. Make self-care a priority. Recognize when you need to take a break, and then take it! Schedule in self-care on a daily basis to make it part of your routine, and privilege self-care as much as you do writing time.
Tariq: We were told many useful things, but the one I can recall now was editing strategy: how to critically review your thesis, how to bring clarity, and use of active voice.
Thinking about your entire experience, what were your favorite parts of Lake Shift? What will you remember most?
Becky: I have two favourite parts of the Lake Shift: 1. The writing nook I established in the cabin. It overlooked the lake and was just very peaceful in the mornings. 2. The afternoon I went canoeing and cliff jumping with a group of my colleagues. From these experiences what I will remember most is to be okay taking a break.
Post-Lake Shift, I’m a recovering work-a-holic. I used to (and sometimes still do!) feel guilty when I turned my attention away from my dissertation, or my teaching responsibilities, or my professional development. But I realized that it’s okay, and often necessary, to take breaks, get some distance from my work and return to it once I’m re-charged and re-energized.
Tariq: I enjoyed every bit of my stay. Everything over there was an absolute fun. Interactions with other people, canoeing, nature sightings, storm at night, cottage gossips are all memorable moments.
Would you recommend other students attend Lake Shift?
Becky: Absolutely! It’s an opportunity like no other! I was so grateful to have the chance to dedicate one whole week exclusively to writing. Also, the food was amazing!
Tariq: Lake Shift is a mind blowing experience; therefore, I’d strongly recommend to other students to attend it. Recommendation: Go Lake Shifting because it is a great stress-reliever which brings you back to life.
Thank you to Becky and Tariq for sharing their Lake Shift experiences!