"  SFU was also appealing because the psychology department provided access to various professional development (e.g., workshops, job talks, colloquia), teaching, and collaborative opportunities. Thus, the university was an ideal destination to complete a Ph.D. wherein I could grow as a researcher, instructor, and person. "

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Nathaniel Johnson

January 12, 2024

Developmental Psychology doctoral student in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Tell us a little about yourself, including what inspires you to learn and continue in your chosen field

I am a Ph.D. student in the developmental psychology stream who aspires to be a professor in the future. One of my main research interests concerns mindfulness and contemplative practices. As someone who regularly practices meditation and mindfulness techniques, I yearn to examine the potential benefits of these practices through contemporary psychological inquiry. The potential to support human development with such contemplative practices is quite fascinating. I strive to be a reliable, productive, and considerate researcher. I also attempt to be a critical thinker and exercise healthy skepticism in my scientific consumption of information. This skepticism ensures that I do not take any conclusions for granted and consistently question the ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ behind communicated results. Ultimately, my research philosophy is applied in nature; I aim to produce research that can not only develop theories but also impact youth and families through investigative findings.

Why did you choose to come to SFU?

My primary motivation for selecting SFU was the similarity between my research interests and the interests of my supervisor, Dr. Hali Kil. Dr. Kil has published a number of articles on mindfulness and parenting; her research masterfully bridges the gap between developmental psychology and mindfulness. Moreover, her lab environment effectively balances cooperation and independent project work. SFU was also appealing because the psychology department provided access to various professional development (e.g., workshops, job talks, colloquia), teaching, and collaborative opportunities. Thus, the university was an ideal destination to complete a Ph.D. wherein I could grow as a researcher, instructor, and person.

How would you describe your research or your program to a family member?

Mindful parenting is a key aspect of my research that intersects mindfulness and family dynamics. This parenting approach involves parents being attentive, receptive, and nonjudgmental with their children and themselves in parenting contexts. Mindful parenting has been identified as a beneficial technique in raising children. I am inspired to produce research that continues to assess the value of this practice within the family. My Ph.D. dissertation research will investigate mindful parenting at a dynamic, day-to-day, level. Additionally, I aim to examine how parents’ mindfulness connects to their children’s mindfulness in a bi-directional manner. In other words, it makes sense that parents’ mindfulness relates to children’s mindfulness, however, I wish to determine whether children’s mindfulness, in turn, may facilitate parental mindfulness.

What three (3) keywords would you use to describe your research?

Mindfulness, Mindful Parenting, Well-being across the lifespan.

How have your courses, RA-ships, TA-ships, or non-academic school experiences contributed to your academic and/or professional development?

My course experiences have directly contributed to my development as a budding researcher. Most notably, my graduate-level psychology seminar course has provided opportunities to network with other developmental psychology students and professors at SFU. Furthermore, the course has organized colloquia and presentations from professors external to our department. This exposure is vital because keeping up with the bright minds of the present day can stimulate novel research ideas and innovative studies. My experience as a TA has also been influential. Given my goal of becoming a professor, the ability to facilitate student discussions and activities has been an incredible asset. I have also generated rubrics for major assignments in collaboration with my supervisor. This experience provided rich insight into the process of assignment production.

Have you been the recipient of any major or donor-funded awards? If so, please tell us which ones and a little about how the awards have impacted your studies and/or research

I am a recipient of a Graduate Scholarships Doctoral Award (CGS D) from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). This award is a substantial three-year scholarship based on merit and a submitted research proposal. The submitted proposal involved a mindful parenting project that I will undertake for my doctoral dissertation.

What have been the most valuable lessons you've learned along your graduate student journey (or in becoming a graduate student)?

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned as a graduate student is the value of the 9-5 workday. In graduate school, there is a heavy workload with the flexibility to create our own schedule. Personally, I have found it very important to have a consistent routine of attending the lab during the day and taking time off in the evening. Balance is a buffer that can protect against burnout during a long doctoral program. Another lesson I learned from one of my academic mentors was that “academia is a gas.” This analogy reflects the idea that there will always be more work that can be done or more projects to take on. Like a gas expanding in a container, academia can expand to take up all of one’s time, leaving no room for other aspects of life. Thus, it is useful to set boundaries to restrict the academic ‘gas’ from consuming one’s entire life. For instance, it is important to know when not to undertake an additional project.

How do you approach networking and building connections in and outside of your academic community?

One of the best ways to network is at conferences, especially conferences specific to your research area of interest. In the past, I have planned ahead to determine which presentations and events I would attend. This forethought ensured that I could network with experts who provide diverse research perspectives. Another networking source is my supervisor. Dr. Kil has myriad collaborators from within and outside BC. She is continuously willing to connect me to collaborators who might be interested in initiating new research projects that parallel my interests.

What are some tips for balancing your academic and personal life?

As previously mentioned, incorporating a 9-5 workday into my routine has helped me create boundaries between my academic and personal life. When I return home at the end of the day, I sign off. Putting in eight hours of work each day alleviates the stressful feelings of “I should be doing more”, which is a recurring sentiment that graduate students experience. It is important for me to maintain my social life and hobbies alongside my academic pursuits. I strive to uphold my daily meditation practice and spend time with friends on weekends. Without this balance, a work-only lifestyle can feel rather bleak and draining.

If you could dedicate your research to anyone (past, present and/or future), who would that be and why?

I wish to dedicate my research to my friends and family who have provided enduring support throughout my academic journey. Whenever I became frustrated or overwhelmed, I could always count on my supports to supply warmth and voices of reason. I want to acknowledge that many of my achievements are due, in part, to the strong foundation of my family and friends.


Contact Nathaniel:njj2@sfu.ca