School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

A Step Ahead: Introducing walking meetings, and why they're effective

A Step Ahead

Georgia Carley​

Walking Meetings

Doing laps of Nixon Field.

On a bright sunny May morning, six people are walking leisurely around the perimeter of Nixon Field, talking. This is Dr. Ian Janssen’s lab (School of Kinesiology and Health Studies), holding its weekly walking meeting.

“It beats sitting, I hate sitting,” says Thomas Ferrao, a Masters student in the Physical Activity Epidemiology lab.

Sitting, which we do so much of every day, is the very reason that Dr. Janssen started his walking meetings four years ago. Now, once the weather hits a stable 10 degrees, he and his students, research coordinator and research assistant head to one of Queen’s sports fields for their meetings. The group will walk for between one to one and a half hours, circling the field and discussing their current research projects.

“In my field,” Dr. Janssen explains, “it is not unusual to do this.” He describes conferences with tall desks for attendees to use while watching presentations and workshops that proceed while walking. He says the research is clear about the negative health impacts of excessive sitting, and he sees his lab’s walking meeting as an important “interruption in sitting time.”

Each of the six arrives at the field with a notebook, but note-taking is not a priority. Instead, the focus is on conversation and ideas.

“These meetings are a chance to talk about the big picture stuff, about where your thesis is going,” PhD Candidate Mike Borghese explains. “It’s helpful to take a step back sometimes,” he adds. 

“Communication flows easier” with their supervisor when they are walking, MSc Candidate Thomas Ferrao says. He contrasts this with their winter lab meetings, held as a group around a desk. “At sit-down meetings all the attention is on you when it’s your turn to talk,” putting the student in the spotlight.  He says the conversations they have while walking are more productive.

The walking meetings are casual, offering opportunities for members of the lab to split off to talk with each other while Prof. Janssen speaks one on one with a student.

“Sitting at a table, there’s not a lot of side talk,” Mike says. While walking, different conversations can emerge. Chao Xue and Karen Li, Research Coordinator and Research Assistant in the lab, emphasize that these side conversations let everyone get to know each other better and to talk about different things. All members of the lab highlighted this as a benefit of the walking meetings.

While the walking meetings reduce sitting time, the physical activity is no intense enough to be considered exercise. Exercise is defined according to increased heart rate, breathing, sweating and other factors. The walking meetings proceed at gentle pace, and are aimed at getting more light intensity physical activity rather than getting more moderate and vigorous intensity exercise. 

Emily Borgundvaag, a Masters student in the lab, sums up her feelings about the meetings: “It’s so nice, I look forward to it.”