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22 August 2016

How a Walk in the Woods Improves Your Dissertation


Thoreau knew it. So did Charles Darwin and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Being outdoors is good for your spirit. It bolsters creativity and problem solving. And it helps you see the world differently.

The folks at Queen’s University know it too.

Several years ago, under the direction of Associate Graduate Studies Dean Dr. Sandra den Otter, they created Dissertation on the Lake. The project was part of SGS Habitat: Resources to Live Well and Stay Well in Graduate School, a programme that won the 2015 CAGS Award for Innovation and Excellence.

The premise of Dissertation on the Lake was simple. It was aimed at Queen’s students in the midst of piecing years of research into a manuscript – a critical and stressful time. The retreats took place at the Queen’s Biology Research Station on Elbow Lake - removed from the bustle of students’ normal work world. They capitalized on the serenity of the setting. The goal was to incorporate balance and writing into a sometimes pressured existence of the graduate student.

The program was a hit.

And this year students from seven Ontario universities took part in an expanded version called The Lake Shift and was held at Queen’s other biology station on Lake Opinicon. It included time to write and set goals, shared meal and recreation times, as well as evening workshops, discussion groups, and seminars. Maggie Berg, author of The Slow Professor, led a workshop on time management. Hélène Lawler, academic writer, editor, and dissertation coach, led discussions around the challenges of dissertation writing and how to reach the finish line.

“Providing graduate students with the opportunity to get away from their daily routines to focus on writing is a winning combination, and when you add into the mix, beautiful surroundings and three prepared meals a day - it provides for a welcome balance of productivity, health and wellness, says Brenda Brouwer, Queen’s Dean of Graduate Studies. “What’s distinct about the Lake Shift, is that it brings graduate students together to exchange ideas, share their tips and strategies for making headway in their theses and to get to know one another.”

This year’s Lake Shift took place the last week of July and Queen’s is eager to do it again next year.