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Aug. 21, 2018

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In mid-July, five doctoral students from Laurier attended the Lake Shift, a dissertation writing retreat held at the Queen’s University Biological Station on Lake Opinicon, about an hour’s drive north of Kingston. Nearly 50 doctoral students from universities across Ontario attended the five-day getaway.

The retreat gave students the opportunity to set goals, make progress on their dissertations, develop better writing habits and make new connections. There was also plenty of time to relax and enjoy their surroundings: rustic cabins, a dining hall and library on a clear lake surrounded by forest.

“There are canoes you can take out, a small walking trail and a bunch of swimming areas. People were playing volleyball and Frisbee and hanging out on the lawn. At night, we played games,” says Joanna Andrejkow, a Laurier PhD student in Management studying employee performance evaluations. “It was really nice. It felt like summer camp for adults.”

Students at summer camp
Every morning, students wrote down their goals for the day on a whiteboard before getting down to work. Breaks structured throughout the day gave students the chance to explore their surroundings and meet new people. Ringing bells pulled students from their work for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Workshops were held on some evenings, with topics including writing and yoga, and editing. Other evenings, students sat around a campfire to share ideas and commiserate.

“You can feel really isolated working on your dissertation. If you start having problems, it’s easy to feel alone. You second-guess yourself, you wonder if you made the right choice and if you’re cut out for the program,” says Andrejkow. “Being at the retreat surrounded by other PhDs who are struggling with the same things really renews your confidence because you see that you’re not alone.”

 “It felt like having a PhD family for five days,” says Melissa Popiel, a Laurier PhD in Social Work student studying episodic caring in Ontario. “There was a tremendous feeling of support – mentally and emotionally.”

Making time to relax and connect with others allowed students to see their ideas in a new light and return to work reenergized.

“There was such a sense of peace and tranquility that now, whenever I start to feel my stress levels rising, that’s the mental space I try to return to,” says Popiel. “I definitely came away from it with a renewed sense of excitement for my own work.”

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