School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Dissertation Boot Camp - a writing community

Dissertation Boot Camp

A Writing Community

Article by Adam Ali

dissertation boot camp participants

Participants of the February 2016 Bootcamp celebrate their achieved goals

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