I don’t know who invented them, but lab retreats are awesome.
This month my research group had its annual Winter retreat at McGill’s Gault Nature Reserve, I absolutely loved it, and I think these retreats will be some of the warmest memories of my years as a graduate student.
To me, the term lab retreat means three things: Sharing thoughts and knowledge, having a good time with my fellows, and acquiring a deeper awareness of where our project is heading to.
The first point is quite obvious: if you gather many people doing research on similar topics and make them spend 2-3 days together in the same building, they’ll obviously spend a lot of time discussing their research topics almost restlessly, both during group activities, and during some of their free time. I personally spent a couple of hours between midnight and 2 am listening to an amazing debate between two of my fellows. When certain discussions occur right before your eyes, you simply don’t dare to miss a word. Even at 2 am.
The second point, having a good time with my fellows, is, of course, the main source of warm memories. Some of these memories are generated in the free time, while others are created during organized group activities, like hiking. I won’t report here the details of the funniest moments we had, but let me say that these moments made me feel I was spending my time not just with a group of fellows, but with a group of friends. Taking care of the personal relationships among the members of a lab is a delicate task, especially when the lab is split into two or more universities based in different cities. And seeing your fellows in person at least once a year definitely helps.
The third point, acquiring a deeper awareness of where our project is heading to, is probably the most serious one. Ok, we had fun together. Ok, we discussed our research topics. But what’s happening inside and outside our group? Are there issues to be solved, new fellows to welcome, new sub-projects to be excited about? Lab retreats are a good moment to address these things in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere, without the rush that characterizes the regular lab meetings.
This is, in a nutshell, my experience with my lab’s retreats. Honestly, I am already looking forward to the next one!
Banner photo by @gradlifemcgill blogger @aliceintheanthropocene // personal photo: The landscape from the Pain de sucre top of Mont Saint-Hilaire (QC), picture taken during the last E4A lab‘s Winter retreat.