2018 PIR Dissertation Retreat

by Elizabeth Bomberg (Head of PIR)

During the Festival of Creative Learning (Feb 2018) several dozen PIR dissertation students*, accompanied by seven staff headed to Perthshire for an overnight Dissertation Retreat.  Arriving at the sunny (really!) Comrie Croft, we settled in, enjoyed our packed lunches outside before getting down to work.  Following introductions we began three parallel workshops on topics nominated by students and staff (research question and structure; argument and analysis; writing survival strategies). The workshops – each of which featured a small group of students and two academics –  were highly interactive and gave us a chance to learn about all the fascinating topics PIR students are exploring. Staff ran their sessions several times so that students could visit all three (or go back to the same one if they were keen).  Between workshops we had wonderful tea breaks and ‘open surgeries’ so students could ask staff individual questions and – crucially- share their ideas with other students.


We formed task groups to set up rooms (students converted a cow shed into a dissertation workshop lab!) or prepare meals. Our awe inspiring cooking team did a fantastic job preparing curries to suit all tastes. The Croft offered a perfect dining space with common dining area, as well as niches for quiet study or smaller discussion groups. After tidying up (yes everyone pitched in – impressive) students and staff relaxed, took part in a multinational marshmallow roast, or competed in an improvised Articulate board game (which demonstrated again that students know more interesting stuff than do staff).

file4Day 2 started with fresh air and gorgeous hikes. Marc, Johanna, Josefine and others headed out for a run at an ungodly hour; Andy Thompson led troopers to climb the Deil’s Cauldron while others strolled to a nearby waterfall, led by student Fidra who knows the Croft extremely well and provided tons of local knowledge.  Suitably refreshed we headed  back  for a final workshop and highly successful peer-to-peer session in which students shared with each other their questions, methods, and challenges. Staff were amazed by the insights and support students provided for each other. Then time to tidy, lunch, and a wrap up session so students could share what they got out of the Retreat (‘I’m feeling much more upbeat.’ ‘I’ve nailed my research question’; ‘I loved getting to know students and staff’) and staff could share their top tips (e.g. set aside dedicated writing time; don’t neglect the conclusion; write with the reader in mind).

Upon our return to Edinburgh Elizabeth will hold a session for all PIR Dissertation students, drawing out some of the key tips and themes from the Retreat. We’re definitely looking forward to running similar retreats in subsequent years.  Students in Years 1-3: you’ve got a (re)treat in store!


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*The students who made this an amazing experience were:  Addi Bowden-Doyle, Alex Mcateer, Alice Grierson, Alicia Clark,  Amy Younger,  Andrew Bailie,  Bloom Segun-Toluhi,  Catriona Millar,  Edie Marriner,  Emma Grace,  Fidra Sym, Jo Dodd, Johanna Tiippana, Josefine Lynggaard, Lily Settari, Molly Griffiths, Phoebe Hanson-Lowe, Rebecca Drummond, Sam Taylor and Sarah Dunn.  Staff offering sessions, advice  and support were:  Elizabeth Bomberg, Julia Calvert, Marc Geddes, Stephen Hill, Cora Lacatus, Sophie Sheerin and Andy Thompson

We are grateful to the University’s Festival of Creative Learning for helping us fund this event.

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