Post-doctoral Fellow Witness Kozanayi reflects on a recent writing retreat

A key annual event on the Bio-economy Chair calendar is the hosting of a writing retreat whereby post-graduate students travel to a quiet place far away from the bustle of campus for a period of uninterrupted writing. This year’s retreat, the third of its kind, saw six PhD students, one Post-doc, and one member of EGS staff – all associated with the Bio-economy Chair, leaving Cape Town to spend four days in the serene surroundings of Laughing Waters farm near Stanford. Members of the group were at various stages of writing up their theses or scientific papers.

While the main goal of the writing retreat was to provide the participants with a quiet environment to write up their work in, it was also used as an opportunity for the members of the group to spend time together, explore opportunities for writing joint papers, and to reflect on their time at UCT in general and the PhD journey in particular. Peer mentoring also took place during recess, while Prof Wynberg gave bespoke advice to participants when needed. Because of the demands of the PhD journey, and since some PhD students spend most of their time in their home country, while others are stationed in different buildings at UCT, it is not usually possible for them to meet and interact in the manner they were able to do during the retreat.

Looking back, the writing retreat appeared to magically transform the participants into more focussed and productive authors, giving a boost to their academic projects. Writing periods were interspersed with games, coaching, and a walk or jog.

The success of a writing retreat depends on a number of factors, however, including booking a suitable space which is quiet and comfortable, limiting Internet access, providing tasty, nourishing meals, and inviting a good mix of people.

Reflecting on the recent writing retreat, participants felt that this should be a permanent feature on the SARChI calendar, with the retreat running for five instead of four days to give participants more time to be productive, far away from the madding crowd!