How to become an expert

How to become an expert

Ever wondered why sometimes you attend a lecture at university and the instructor seems brilliant but you walk away not learning a thing? 

Often times Instructors have lost conscious awareness of 3 elements to becoming an expert and may neglect them from practice.

When obtaining a graduate degree, we are working towards becoming a master or an expert in a field 

So what steps does it take to become an expert?

According to Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, and Norman (2010) the research tells us there are 3 elements to developing mastery for students. 

We must acquire components skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what we have learned. 

How to become an expert - image  on

Let me break these down one by one and also provide you with some tips on how you can practice these for your own learning.

Acquiring Component Skills

Acquiring component skills include the basic learning of skills such as reading writing, analyzing, critical thinking. For example: when analyzing a case study, component skills would include identifying the question, articulating perspectives, recommending solutions.

Tips for practice:

  • Identify your blind spots
  • Seek support from a TA with task decomposition
  • Discuss with colleagues
  • Explore educational materials (other than what you are provided in class)
  • Isolated practice of skills that need improvement


Practicing these component skills is needed to integrate them into your work, both separately and in combination with different skills. This element is often more difficult and demanding than the first.

Tips for practice:

  • Give yourself time to practice and increase fluency
  • Temporarily constrain the scope of the task (break a large task or skill down and focus on one aspect)
  • Explicitly include integration in work activities (be intentional with practicing these skills into your day to day)


Obtaining the ability to integrate component skills successfully. Knowing when and where to use what you have learned. Also referred to as transfer.

Tips for practice:

  • Identify conditions of applicability (identify contexts of where and when you can apply certain skills)
  • Apply skills and knowledge in diverse contexts (apply skills in multiple situations)
  • Use comparisons to help identification (identify other problems, cases, scenarios or tasks to differentiate characteristics)

In order to become a master in your field, acquire the needed component skills, practice and integrate these components for grater automaticity and then understand the conditions and contexts on when and where to apply.

I found this helpful for my learning, I hope you do too. 


Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How Do Students Develop Mastery? . In How learning works seven research-based principles for smart teaching (pp. 90–120).

Christine xo

P.S Don’t forget to use #ScholarCulture #ScholarSquad to keep me updated on your experiences as grad students.

P.P.S Applying to grad school for the 2023/24 school year? Check out this FREE eBook on 5 steps to a successful grad school application. Are you in grad school and struggling to find easy lunches to bring to campus? Check out three FREE recipes and full nutritional information here.

Academia and Parenthood: Work life balance?

Academia and Parenthood: Work life balance?

Watch a 30 minute talk from Christine, sharing her experience as a new mom and a 5th year PhD Candidate at Carleton University.

In this talk you will find a discussion on academia and parenthood, including barriers, challenges, recent literature, and strategies to manage pursing a life in academia as a parent.

As a social worker, she is committed to improving insecure working conditions for care workers. She began a blog titled “Scholar Culture” to emphasize slow intentional writing, organization strategies, and motivation for graduate students, while going through it herself. She is currently in the writing stage of her dissertation and on maternity leave with her 7 month old baby, Luca. She believes building and sharing in community is a critical tool to aid in making both motherhood and a PhD more manageable.

A love letter communicating boundaries, from a PhD student

A love letter communicating boundaries, from a PhD student

Dear loved one,

Thank you for continuously inviting me to outings even though I often take a rain check. I wish I could be there more but my PhD is quite demanding.

Thank you for asking me what I am studying, even though you have asked me before. I know it’s a lot to wrap your head around – it’s a lot for me too.

Thank you for being patient when I don’t respond right away to your texts or calls. I might be feeling overwhelmed and want to wait until I am in a better mindset to give you my full attention.

Thank you for not asking me “how my writing is going”, it is a very challenging process and it can cause me a lot of anxiety. If I want to discuss it, I will be sure to bring it up with you when I am ready.

Thank you for not asking me when I will be finished/how much longer/shouldn’t I be done by now. A PhD takes a long time, even if you know someone who has finished in 4 years, the average is actually longer.

Thank you for your continuous support in this pursuit through words of encouragement, offering food or your time. I often question this path because it is so financially and mentally difficult, and your support means more than you know.

Thank you for being open and explicit with me about your boundaries too. It helps me empathize with the things you are going through that I might not fully understand.

Thank you for your continued friendship, I value it so much. 

With love from A PhD student

PhD and Pregnant

PhD and Pregnant

As I write this, I am currently 6 months postpartum. I wanted to take a moment to reflect back on my time when I was pregnant and trying to move forward with my PhD. At the time of pregnancy, I wasn’t up for much reflection, it was mostly survival. I struggled with morning sickness for most my pregnancy, but otherwise it was a fairly smooth ride in terms of the baby’s health (for that I am so grateful). Despite the morning sickness and general exhaustion, I was still able to accomplish some work.  But this post is not meant to promote productivity during pregnancy, rather to share what was realistic for me during the ups and downs of my own unique pregnancy.

It is still pretty rare to find a PhD student who is also pregnant – likely due to financial strains (I would imagine), which is particularly why I wanted to write this post. I also wanted to write it for those who are questioning whether they want to pursue pregnancy while completing grad school. And if you are pregnant and trying to finish your PhD, although your experience will be different from mine, you might also find some solace in this post.

I begin this blog post sharing an overview of my experience in each trimester, outlining my personal experience and my PhD work in each phase. As well as my response to the most commonly asked question I received while being a pregnant PhD student. Wrapping up, I share some overall reflections on my experience during pregnant, while pursing my PhD.  

Trying to conceive (TTC)

I thought it was apt to start with sharing my journey pre-pregnancy, while trying to conceive. This is ultimately the first step in the process, and it shouldn’t be overlooked. I felt ready to become a mother, and it was something that I always wanted. I didn’t know if it would be possible or what the journey would look like to get there. This was part of the dilemma when deciding “when” to get pregnant. But if this PhD, as well as the pandemic has taught me anything… it is that any plans you make can quickly go out the window.

We decided to start TTC in my 5th year of my PhD, when I was 31 years old. Ultimately what it came down to was me wanting to be a mother more than anything. To me, there was never going to be a right time and I desperately didn’t want to miss “my chance”. It took us an average length to get pregnant and for that I am very grateful. I know this can be a very difficult time for many folks trying to start a family, whether it be naturally, IVF, through adoption and my heart goes out to you wherever you are at in the process. But it is also something to think about before pursuing TTC. In addition to the financial strain, I had to make sure I was prepared for a possibly turbulent ride of fertility. These are all things my partner and I considered before trying. Despite these challenges, I felt a strong sense of peace with our decision and we moved forward with our decision and found out we were pregnant in May 2021.

First Trimester  

The first trimester for me was extremely rough. I was lucky if I was able to get an hour of work in on any given day. Some days I wasn’t able to achieve anything. I was in the process of my data collection and before beginning my interviews I usually started with “I am currently pregnant and experiencing really bad nausea so we may have to pause the interview at any point”. Everyone was so understanding about it and shared in my excitement of being pregnant. I was also teaching a Statistics course for my first time. I loved the challenge of statistics and overcoming its difficulty as a student. It was a dream course for me to be able to teach it, but it took a lot out of me. On top of it all, I was distracted. I was pregnant! My dream. And I wanted to research EVERYTHING BABY. A lot of the PhD and pregnant blogs I read and mentioned to get as much work done as you can before baby comes because after, you will be busy. I felt super down about this because I could hardly get work done on a good day.  So, all this is to say, if you are pregnant and tired, or nauseous, or just soaking it all up, do what feels right to you. Work if you can and when you can. Or don’t. Just try your best and producing anything on top of growing a baby is extremely impressive in my eyes.  

Second Trimester

The morning sickness followed me into August and the second trimester. During this time, I was finishing up my data collection, starting my analysis and I prepared for another course I was teaching starting September. Again, it was a course I had never taught before, Research Methods. Another dream course, that took a lot of energy for me to prepare and conduct, but it was worth it. Luckily, I started feeling a bit more energized and less sick around 22 months. But for me, nesting came early, and I was yet again distracted with what to buy and how to prepare for baby. I found what helped was to set aside a distinct time in my day to spend time reading, dreaming and planning baby things (so that I didn’t get sidetracked in my work hours) you can read more about how I stayed motivated here.

Third Trimester

My final trimester was probably my “easiest”.  But the extra weight sure put a strain on my sleep and general movement throughout my days. I napped a lot. I continued my analysis and prepared as much as I could for my maternity leave and eagerly awaited my labour and delivery. We also decide to move during my last trimester… so that was fun… you can read more about that here.

Overall reflections

Before I wrap up this post, I wanted to touch on a question I commonly receive on Instagram which is “when is the best time to have a baby while pursuing academia?” and here is my response:

There is no “best time”. The best time is when is best for YOU.

Most people (and I might be one of them) would say that having a baby during a PhD is not the best time. In some ways it was a great time for it – I was able to rest when I needed to, if I had to be at work 9-5 everyday, I am not sure I would have been able to make that happen. But it is hard to say because I haven’t experienced the other phases – postdoc, pre-tenure etc. I think any stage presents its own challenges but also benefits. It’s up to you to weight the pros and cons of these and to decide what is right for you.

I am not sure what the rest of my journey of academic and motherhood will look like, defending my thesis, navigating the job market and hopefully having more children but I’m starting to feel more and more comfortable with out having such a set plan for my life.

Final Thoughts

1. I was not as productive as I would have been if not pregnant, and that is okay because I was growing a baby.

2. I rested when I felt like I needed it, and that is okay because I was growing a baby.

3. Everyone’s journey is unique, so provide empathy to others, as well as yourself.

4. Unfortunately, there is not “right time” to have a baby in academia. I believe there would be hurdles no matter what stage of your academic career while starting a family. And that is not okay. But the silver lining is that if you have the privilege to start a family, that is a wonderful gift.

So, to all the pregnant scholars, please remind yourself that whatever you are going through and whatever you are able to accomplish or not accomplish – it is okay because you are growing a baby. This takes effort, time, rest, care and love.

My thoughts are with all of you whatever stage you are at in this journey.

Until next time,

Christine xo

P.S Don’t forget to use #ScholarCulture #ScholarSquad to keep me updated on your experiences as grad students.

P.P.S Applying to grad school for the 2022/23 school year? Check out this FREE eBook on 5 steps to a successful grad school application. Are you in grad school and struggling to find easy lunches to bring to campus? Check out three FREE recipes and full nutritional information here.

10 ways Motherhood is a lot like a PhD

10 ways Motherhood is a lot like a PhD

These past three months as a new mom have been a roller coaster ride to say the least. I’ve been reflecting on the challenges and the joyful moments and I look forward to putting them into a longer post about the newborn stage and completing a PhD. Until I find a moment to write that post, I will leave you with some fun comparisons on how I am finding motherhood is a lot like a PhD….

  1. You have no idea what you are doing, but yet you keep going
  2. There are days where you feel like you have done nothing, but have worked so damn hard
  3. You enjoy it but don’t have any energy left to show it
  4. You put your all into it and rarely get rewarded
  5. There is a whole community going through the same thing, but it’s still a lonely road
  6. Comparison is so easy, but everyone’s path looks very different
  7. There is no rule book or guide
  8. Most people (except others in your shoes) wonder what it is you do all day that keeps you so busy
  9. Asking for help can be hard, but burnout is real, so take breaks (even if you have no time for them)
  10. It’s exhausting, but there are those moments that are just magic and make it all worth it

Are you a parent who is or has completed their PhD? Anything to add to the list? Would love to hear in the comments.

Until next time,

Christine xo

P.S Don’t forget to use #ScholarCulture #ScholarSquad to keep me updated on your experiences as grad students.

How I Stayed Motivated During Pregnancy

How I Stayed Motivated During Pregnancy

A common question I get asked is “how do you stay motivated during pregnancy”? Often new grad school moms are reaching out because they have just become pregnant but are either distracted by pregnancy or too exhausted to work the same amount of hours. I get it. I experienced both. My first trimester (and even longer – up until about 20 weeks), it was hard for me to even get out of bed. I experienced pretty bad nausea, vomiting and exhaustion. Luckily, that eventually went away but when it did my mind was focused on my babe and I was distracted very easily. Now at 38 weeks, awaiting my baby’s arrival, I am experiencing a mixture of both exhaustion (from lack of sleep, because pregnancy is hard) and distraction (because my life is about to drastically change!).

I wanted to share three things that actually helped me stay motivated. These things might seem like the opposite of being more productive. But in fact, they helped me stay motivated and focused when I was able to put in the time to work.

Scheduled time to think/read/dream about baby and pregnancy

As a first time mom, I knew nothing about what I was going to experience in pregnancy, let alone what it entails to take care of a baby. And as a researcher, all I wanted to do was to read and learn all the things. I had monkey mind and so when I sat down to write, it was really hard to stay focused. What helped was to actually schedule time out of my day to dig into these books and information. I found that if I knew I had a set time to explore and dream, it would be easier for me to return back to my work when my thoughts went elsewhere. And if I was working and I did get distracted, I would write down that thought/question in my notes section on my computer to check back later. Scheduling this time didn’t help me from getting distracted, but it helped me to return back to my work faster when I did get distracted.

Reduced my hours (and was kind to myself about it)

As I mentioned, my first trimester was rough. There was actually no physical way I would have been able to work the same amount of hours. My body just wouldn’t let me. Some days I would only get 1-2 hours of work done, and others it was a write off. But I did what I could, when I could. It was a really challenging time for me. In the second trimester I was able to pick up my regular pace and tried to make up for the time lost, because I had the energy and was motivated to do that. Similarly, into the third trimester I maintained regular work hours. However, with the move and now coming into my last weeks, my hours have reduced again. The point here is, your motivation during pregnancy might ebb and flow and that is okay. Listen to your body and do what you can. Don’t push yourself – you are already doing a lot of work by making that baby of yours!

Rested and took days off when I needed to (and tried not to feel guilty about it)

I think that last point bears repeating – your body is making a baby and is using more of your energy to do so. Your body and your baby are more important than your work. I found that when I set my ego aside and actually listened to my body, took that nap, or day off, I was able to feel more motivated to get back to my work, knowing I took time and prioritized my health. It should always be a priority, pregnant or not.

Everyone’s experience of pregnancy is of course so different. Someone might not experience any challenging symptoms and therefore their schedule may stay the same. Whereas another might be on bedrest for their entire pregnancy. This is what mine looked like and these are the things that helped me. Any grad school mamas out that, share below any strategies that helped you stay motivated during pregnancy.

Until next time,

Christine xo

P.S Don’t forget to use #ScholarCulture #ScholarSquad to keep me updated on your experiences as grad students.

10 personal reflections of a 4th year PhD Student

10 personal reflections of a 4th year PhD Student

After each year of my PhD, I have spent some time reflecting on the past year and writing up these reflections in blog posts. You can read my reflections from my first year here, my second year here, and third year here.

After a really difficult third year, my fourth year has become one of my most enjoyable years yet. Since everyone’s PhD varies so greatly, here is some more context on what my fourth year entailed. I wrote and defended my thesis proposal. I taught for two of the terms (winter and summer). I wrapped up an extensive research project. And began my data collection. But the best news of my fourth year was finding out that I was pregnant and expecting our first baby in January 2022.

With all of this happening, here are my 10 personal reflections from my 4th year as a PhD student:

Continue reading “10 personal reflections of a 4th year PhD Student”

30 Day Writing Challenge

30 Day Writing Challenge

Who is ready for another writing challenge? I know I am.

I have to get a solid first draft done for a published chapter, that I am working on in a team – by the end of August. I thought a writing challenge would be a great way to motivate me and hold me accountable. So, if this sounds like something you need too, I hope you will join me!

Continue reading “30 Day Writing Challenge”

Lessons after multiple rejections

Lessons after multiple rejections

Last week was a rough one for me. I received two rejections in one day. And one of those rejections was for a SSHRC doctoral award, which is an award that I have been working to earn for the past four years. It was a personal goal that I wanted to achieve in my PhD, and this was my last year to apply.

I’ve had my share of rejection in the past; applying to other schools for my PhD, other funding opportunities and you can check out some of past past reflections here and here. But something hit different this time.

The typical narrative around rejection in grad school is “get used to it”, “this is something we need to face for the rest of our career”, “if you can’t take rejection, you will never make it.” If this was in fact true, you would think by my fourth year of my PhD I would be an expert on rejection and it wouldn’t affect me, right? Wrong.

One thing you must know about me is that I am a feeler, I am emotional, a really big empath. I used to hate this about myself, but it’s something I am growing to love. When I received the news of this rejection, I felt like I should have enough experience in rejection by now and be able to dust it off and move on. I am sure some people can do this, but not me, I don’t think it will ever be me. If you are like me, an emotional soul, then I say let’s embrace it. Let’s change the narrative of rejection in academia. Let’s allow ourselves to feel the hurt and see what we can learn from it. Here is what I am learning so far:

Lesson One: Feel your feelings – both the bad and the good

After I heard the news, my husband came in the room and double checked the e-mail to make sure it was correct (which in hindsight is very sweet), as I ended up on the ground crying and in disbelief. That night, the only thing I could do is try to focus on anything else but the negative thoughts in my head and doing anything I could to sleep that night. This was very much survival mode, it was very difficult to exist that day. The next morning, still in a bit of a shock, I shared the news on Instagram, which made it more real. I went for a morning walk. I wanted to be “strong” and move on, but I couldn’t help but cry for most of it. Unfortunately, my mask only covers half my face, leaving my blood-shot eyes out in the open for everyone to see. Then things got easier, minute by minute, hour by hour. It seemed less like running through mud and more like walking at a very slow pace.

But you see, I was strong; I face and felt all my feelings – the anger, the frustration, the hopelessness, the unworthiness, and the deep, deep sadness.

Allowing myself to tune into my feelings, I found something surprising. There were also a lot of wonderful moments amongst the saddness. At first, this was a bit uncomfortable to feel, I thought, “This is awful news, I can’t be enjoying some piece of this rejection, can I?” Well I did. The words my husband told me, while I was curled up in a ball on the ground that night, the out-pour of supportive comments, DM’s, cards, coffees and gifts that I received, were all so thoughtful and heartwarming. And I don’t want to forget those things – the unwavering support from my husband, the academic community of colleagues that support me and my work, the online community of scholars sharing in their own rejection stories to rewrite the narrative of rejection in academia, the check-in’s from family and friends. If I had brushed off my rejection, I would have missed it all.

I learned my first lesson, it’s okay to feel so incredibly sad, while also feeling loved and happy at the same moment, because of the same event. Practice liking what you are feeling – both the good and the bad.

Lesson Two: Get rid of that shame. We have all been here

I felt so embarrassed. Unworthy to be playing in the same arena as the other scholars who have received this award. I felt embarrassed that I took this silly award to heart so much. I felt like a disappointment to those who have been supporting me in my journey. I felt, shame. So. Much. Shame. But can we please work towards getting rid of that? If everyone experiences so much rejection in academia, then it shouldn’t be shameful. We should wear our rejections with pride. Imagine if there could be a section for rejections on our CV and we could see them too as significant milestones – because you put yourself out there, you worked hard on those applications; you tried.

My second lesson, my rejections are my battle wounds, check them out – aren’t they cool?

Lesson Three: Find something that helps with negative thoughts

But as I mentioned, there were dark days. As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, dark times are tough. Tougher than I even want to admit to my therapist, or my husband, let alone in this blog post for the entire world to see. But something that helped me in these dark times is working through the present moment. This won’t work for everyone, but it worked for me. I found something that worked for me. At first, this was simply focusing on something to be grateful for, anything really, and repeat it until I was blue in the face. Then, I could reframe my thoughts a bit more easily. And eventually could bring myself to do things that brought me joy, like read, paint, or meditate. This comes with a warning however, working at your negative thoughts is exhausting. It’s a lot of work. But it was survival.

My third lesson, gratitude is exhausting, but it works (for me).

Lesson Four: Reflect on your unconscious feelings

And for my biggest lesson of all. In deep stillness comes deep reflection. My reflection taught me why I actually wanted this funding award so badly. Sure, the money would be great. Yes, it would look great on my CV when I apply for jobs. Oh, and I would gain significant bragging rights. But mostly, I wanted it because it would prove that I could be a respected scholar, that I am good enough to be in the playing field, that I belong.

What I am learning is that this funding award would could never give me that. I am the only one who can give that to me. I need to believe it, and no funding award will prove it. I am not there yet, but I am working on it. I feel hopeful and I feel powerful, because I felt my feelings.

Of course, I don’t have this whole rejection thing figured out, and I definitely don’t have this PhD thing figured out. But I know I can’t run from being who I am. So, if you are reading this blog post because you have recently faced rejection, I encourage you to take some time to sit with your unique feelings and emotions, whatever ones come up for you, and see what lessons you can take away from this experience. Rejection sucks. But you are strong.

Until next time,

Christine xo

P.S Don’t forget to use #ScholarCulture #ScholarSquad to keep me updated on your experiences as grad students.

P.P.S Applying to grad school for the 2021/22 school year? Check out this FREE eBook on 5 steps to a successful grad school application. Are you in grad school and struggling to find easy lunches to bring to campus? Check out three FREE recipes and full nutritional information here.

Losing motivation after a major milestone

Losing motivation after a major milestone

A pattern I’ve started to notice in my PhD is that every time I finish a big milestone, such as completing coursework, my qualifying exam, and now my proposal, I often lose motivation after it is complete. At first, I shrugged this off as me needing to take a break and nothing more. And I think that is part of it. It is necessary for us PhD students to rest or else this marathon will not be sustainable. We also need to recognize the difference between only needing a break and signs of burnout. After my qualifying exam, I was burnt out. But this time it is different. After completing my proposal, a goal I have been working on for so long, when I began to return to my work I was missing that sense of challenge, excitement, and stimulation. So, if you are finding yourself reading this after a major milestone, first off – congratulations. Secondly, whether you are experiencing burnout or simply just need some guidance to work towards your next goal, below I share some tips that help me get back to a routine after I finish a big accomplishment and hope they can help you too.

Continue reading “Losing motivation after a major milestone”