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.

Managing a PhD during big life transitions

Managing a PhD during big life transitions

If you have been following me and my journey on Instagram, you would have seen lots of updates on our recent move. My husband and I found a new home to rent in order to get some more space for the baby. We are used to living in under 1000 sq f tplaces, so having four different floors is a really big change for us. For the month of December, most of our time was spent, packing, unpacking and organizing the new space.

But of course, work doesn’t stop during these big life transitions. At the same time I was wrapping up a teaching term, trying to write a book chapter, in the midst of the Omicron variant, all while being 8 months pregnant. It was a busy month, but aren’t they all? In these busy times it is easy to forget about what “works” for you – what I am referring to here are your regular coping mechanisms that are more easy to fit in when your day to day life is more mundane. I found that I quickly forgot these habits and so, in today’s blog post I wanted to share some reminders that helped me manage my PhD and my mental health during this life transition.

Reminder One: Don’t forget to pause

Trying to get everything I wanted to do in a day easily had me in an energizer bunny state. I would move from one thing to the next, with new tasks poping up in between, without taking a second to step back and breathe. Sure, I was able to get a lot done but by the end of the day I had those moments of “what just happened” and “how did that day go by so fast”. Of course this is a busy time and there is a lot to get done, but it was important for me to remember to pause. Taking “mini” moments out ofmy day, whether it is with my coffee in the morning, or ordering in our favourite meal for dinner. Pause and taking a minute (off my phone) to reflect and really take in this big transition in of life brought me some peace and joy.

Reminder Two: Wind down

Similar to reminder one, it was especially important for me to “pause” at night, or else I could see myself going back to my scary burn out phase. If we don’t leave this time to wind down, sleep is not going to come easily. You might think it will be helpful to squeeze in one or two more hours of your to do list before bed, but what will be more helpful is setting up a proper wind down routine. Again, I found the most helpful practice is to get off my phone or any devices. At the end of a long day all I want to do is put my feet up and watch a show where I don’t have to use any brain cells. And of course I allowed myself to do this sometimes. But I found when I turned off the devices at least an hour before bed, took a bath, meditated, or read a book I felt much more rested.

Reminder Three: Stay on top of e-mails (if possible)

Now you might not have time for this, depending on the type of transition in your life and other variables. However, deep in our move and having let 4 days pass without me checking my e-mail, I felt very overwhelmed. The e-mails were piling up, but I also felt very disconnected from my work. It is not like I was on vacation where the main purpose would be for me to disconnect from my work. So, after these 4 days passed I found it helpful for me to start my day with 1-3 hours of work at my desk. This included e-mails and admin work mostly but also a bit of writing to help me feel connected to my work again. This work shouldn’t be the expectation however, if you can’t get to it one day that is fine too. But any day I fit it in, helped me in the long run.

Reminder Four: When all else fails, practice gratitude

And some days, there is just no time for any of these strategies! And that is okay too. Something really easy that I found I always had time for and was an instant mood changer was gratitude. As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, getting into a negative mindset can happen quickly. A few things go wrong that day (which they always do) and at the end of the day, I am questioning all my life decisions. Waking up in the morning and having the first thing I think of as something I am grateful for, and similarly listing my gratitude list when falling asleep, helped me feel like I was surrounding myself in a warm blanket of love. The more I practiced, the easier it became and the faster I was able to get into a more positive mindset.

Of course, these are the habits that helped me and they will look differently for everyone. I hope that when I go through other big life transitions that I can revisit these gentle reminders. What strategies do you find help you during a big life transition?

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.

My PhD Qualifying Exam: Part 2

My PhD Qualifying Exam: Part 2

It has been a while since I revisited my qualifying exam that took place back in May 2020. If you are new here, make sure to check out Part 1 of my qualifying journey here. This first post shares an overview of my story with the qualifying exam – what it looked liked in my department at my school, my personal journey with it and some of my advice along the way. This next part, I will share specifically about my written exam. And shortly after, in part 3 I will share my experience with the oral exam.

Continue reading “My PhD Qualifying Exam: Part 2”

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”