Succeeding in postgraduate study
Succeeding in postgraduate study

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Succeeding in postgraduate study

1 What is critical thinking?

Let’s begin with a bit of context. A major concern among employers and educators is that many graduates are incapable of applying the skills gained from their education to solve practical problems in their workplace. Within this debate is concern about graduates’ mastery of ‘critical thinking’ and the transferability of higher-order thinking skills to the workplace.

A recent publication by the Confederation of British Industry titled ‘Engineering our future-stepping up the urgency of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] ’ identified ‘critical thinking’ as a key transferable STEM competency, among others. The emphasis relates to the notion that higher abilities such as critical thinking are behaviours and characteristics that employers value in the workplace. But this is not only common in the STEM sector. A Wall Street Journal publication in 2014 indicated that most employers looked for graduates with critical thinking capacity. The report mentions that critical thinking in job postings has doubled since 2009 and on one particular week found that more than 21,000 healthcare and 6,700 management postings contained some reference to the ‘skill’. There are a number of other publications that highlight critical thinking as an important aspect of postgraduate study.

If you cast your mind back to Session 1, you will recall that the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), the independent body entrusted with monitoring and advising on standards and quality in UK higher education, emphasise critical thinking skills as a key facet of postgraduate education and training. This is very likely to be the case in many other countries, too.

So what is ‘critical thinking’? It is likely that you have already come across this term in your personal and professional life, and probably in your previous studies. The term may have different meanings to you, depending on where you have read about it, or were required to apply it.

You may have arrived at an interpretation or a definition for this term. You will revisit your definition later on in this session, but first let’s explore this concept a little further.

Activity 1 What does the term ‘critical thinking’ mean to you?

Timing: Allow approximately 5 minutes

Jot down a couple of things that come to mind when you consider the term ‘critical thinking’ – what does this mean to you?

List a couple of activities you have undertaken in the last month or so that you believe required critical thinking. You will return to these later.

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