The inaugural RIEL Postgraduate Writing Retreat


The inaugural RIEL Postgraduate Writing Retreat

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Mary River, NT

17-19 October 2016

On a hot and humid day in late October, 17 postgraduate students from the Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods travelled down the Stuart and Arnhem Highways to the Mary River Wilderness Retreat for a 2 day writing workshop. With them were 4 staff members – Natasha Stacey, Dirk Steenbergen, Mike Lawes and Brett Murphy – and writing expert David Lindsay. David travelled from Perth to teach the student researchers the principles of communicating research and writing confidently.

We arrived as the sun was setting on Monday and spent the evening getting to know our roommates, and enjoyed a roast dinner and a swim. Everyone was up bright and early Tuesday morning and we spent the day learning from David Lindsay. He provided lots of hot tips for structuring and writing clear scientific papers and set tasks for the next day to start to draft a paper title, hypothesis, introduction and discussion.

We had free time after the day of workshopping so people went off for walks around the lush Mary River area, went for swims in the hotel pools, or played cards over a beer. It was really wonderful to have time away from Darwin with limited internet or phone reception to spend some time with our fellow students and staff.

The second day of the workshop was very productive. We broke into small groups and worked on our paper titles and hypotheses, constructively critiquing each other’s work. I think we were all pretty chuffed with our fanciful paper titles when we first presented them and it was a bit confronting to have them pulled apart by the watchful staff and students. It was invaluable to have the input of impartial colleagues who really made us think hard about what we were trying to say in our papers – our key message - and how we could say it in the simplest way.

The 17 participants represented a diverse array of research topics from northern Australia, Asia and South America (Indigenous natural and cultural resource management, biodiversity conservation and development, wildlife and plant ecology, fire management, forest based livelihoods, microbiology and renewable energy) coupled with staff areas of expertise across these areas. We found that learning across and within disciplines and with different staff expertise and views was beneficial – interdisciplinarity stimulated discussion through different perspectives and views. We returned to CDU in the afternoon after an evaluation session where the main comment was that the retreat should have run for longer!

 Writing retreat group photo

The RIEL Postgraduate Writing Retreat,

Mary River, NT


CDU Waterfront Campus, NT

11 November 2016

We held a follow up workshop day at CDU Waterfront Campus on the 11th of November. This provided students with an opportunity to present a draft of the paper they’d been working on since the retreat for peer review.


The writing retreat was funded through a Faculty of Engineering, Health, Science and the Environment  Student Development Course Grant, prepared and submitted by myself and Stewart Pittard on behalf of RIEL HDR’s with support from RIEL staff. These grants are reviewed by the Research and Research Training Committee (RRTC) and can be used for funding courses in discipline specific analytical tools or techniques, grant writing or project management. The grant information can be found here and is open to all EHSE HDR students.

The School of Environment and RIEL also provided in kind support for staff and student transport. We’re so grateful to the four staff for taking time out of their busy schedules to work with us. We enjoyed watching them debate with each other and with David Lindsay, proving that there is no “right answer”, just robust and well considered discussion. It also highlighted the diversity of academic opinions in RIEL, and I know I benefited from the multi-disciplinary nature of the retreat (one of RIEL’s best assets in my opinion). Particular thanks go to Natasha Stacey for being the driving force and intellectual stamina behind the retreat.

This was our first go at organising a writing retreat so we will be considering the information gathered in the evaluation process to ensure all the comments are taken seriously. We hope to continue to work with senior staff to develop this writing retreat into a permanent fixture on the RIEL calendar, and to ensure there is a diversity of writing retreats on offer, to cater to students at different stages of their candidature.

As Ray Bradbury once said, you fail only if you stop writing. So, keep writing already!

Shokhida SafarovaAlea and GabiStewart Pittard

Shokhida Safarova prepares her ideas on the white board; Alea Rose and Gabi Arcoverde working

together; Stewart Pittard writes all the notes.


Salman Quddus presents his work; Sigit Sasmito discusses ideas with the group.

Group photoGroup working

Working in small groups was productive - Dirk Steenbergen imparts knowledge to

his group; Brett Murphy and Natasha Stacey work with another group of students.

Afternoon walkA brown kite, seen from the breakfast tableOdete relaxing

Free time - Ronju Ahammad, Salman Quddus, Robin Leppitt, Jennifer Macdonald and Billy Ross found

a bridge during an afternoon walk; A black kite, spotted from the breakfast table; Odete Do Ceu

Guterres relaxes after a meal.