Evidence of the implicit expectation that postgraduate and research students will develop their critical frame of mind comes from various authoritative sources. A similar expectation is evident in the ‘guidance for contributors’ and assessment criteria for many peer-reviewed academic journals.
Let us look here at different sources of expectations of students published in recent years. A joint statement from the seven UK Research Councils listed the skills that all research students (studying any field) who received Research Council funding were expected to develop (ESRC 2005). They include:
- the ability to recognise and validate problems
- original, independent and critical thinking, and the ability to develop theoretical concepts
- a knowledge of recent advances within one’s field and in related areas
- an understanding of relevant research methodologies and techniques and their appropriate application within one’s research field
- the ability to critically analyse and evaluate one’s findings and those of others
- an ability to summarise, document, report and reflect on progress
Items 2 and 5 are especially relevant to developing a critical frame of mind: the ability to generate and juggle with ideas, and to engage critically with others’ work while engaging self-critically with one’s own.
A second source is the UK’s Quality Assurance Agency (2006), responsible for providing a framework for higher education qualifications. Here is an extract from the list of skills that graduates of masters level programmes in business and management were expected to demonstrate:
- Problem solving and decision making: establishing criteria, using appropriate decision techniques including identifying, formulating and solving business problems; the ability to create, identify and evaluate options; the ability to implement and review decisions.
- Information and knowledge: scanning and organizing data, abstracting meaning from information and sharing knowledge.
a) relates directly to the development of a critical frame of mind, whereas b) and c) imply the application of a critical frame of mind to problems, decisions, and the use of information.
A third source is the criteria for assessing postgraduate and doctoral work established by each university. Here is an extract from the Cardiff University (2006) regulations governing the award of doctoral research degrees:
1.1 The degree [...] may be awarded by the University in recognition of the successful completion of a programme of further study and research, the results of which are judged to constitute an original contribution to learning and to give evidence of:
1.1.1 the creation and interpretation of new knowledge, through original research, of a quality to satisfy peer review, extend the forefront of the discipline and merit publication;
1.1.2 a systematic acquisition and understanding of a substantial body of knowledge which is at the forefront of an academic discipline or area of professional practice;
1.1.3 an ability to relate the results of such study to the general body of knowledge in the discipline;
1.1.4 the general ability to conceptualise, design and implement a project for the generation of new knowledge, applications or understanding at the forefront of the discipline, and to adjust the project design in the light of unforeseen problems;
1.1.5 a detailed understanding of applicable techniques for research and advanced academic enquiry.
Demonstrating that the study has generated new knowledge at the forefront of the discipline or field implies developing and applying a critical frame of mind in two ways:
- through critical engagement with the relevant literature to demonstrate the originality and contribution of a substantial project on an aspect of the management field
- through the ability to focus, design, implement, and adjust this project so as to produce original results that can be defended against the critical questioning of the examiners