In January, final year students studying BA Human Geography and BA Human Geography & Planning spent three days in Malham, a small village in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. Each year staff accompany students on this fieldtrip and although it is known colloquially as the ‘Dissertation Boot Camp’, students always have a great time. The trip is actually an innovative ‘writing retreat’, the only one of its kind in our university. It is run by Dr Bronwen Edwards, who is a trained academic writing retreat facilitator. Indeed, several of the staff are actively engaged in research on student fieldtrips and writing, and we have drawn on this experience to create a writing retreat that really works for our students as they embark on writing up their dissertation research.
We have a busy programme of activities. Students can choose to attend communal writing sessions, dissertation workshops, and specialist group tutorials on ‘troubleshooting your methodology’ or ‘making a start with your content chapters’ and so on. This year’s exciting addition was a new workshop led by Dr Karen Horwood ‘Serious play lego!’ where students were encouraged to explore where they were at with their dissertations and how to move forward, by making lego models. We are really lucky that several of the staff are experienced walkers and lead country walks for all the students in the spectacular countryside. The rural setting is great for relieving stress, clearing the head, and encouraging the creative flow.
Students have lots of opportunities for support and advice In Malham, but the main aim is to create time and space to write, away from the usual distractions of city life. We help students learn strategies for writing productively when they return to normal student life in Leeds, for example how to break through writer’s block and how to establish a routine of regular writing. So many students find this trip game-changing for their dissertations, building their academic confidence and renewing their enthusiasm for their dissertation topics.
Article by Dr Andre Pusey, Course Director, Master of Planning / BA Housing Studies / BA Human Geography