About this Resource
Getting inside the mind of an expert management researcher
Your learning through the two-way process of academic discourse
Who do we think you are?
Who do you think your audience is?
What’s distinctive about researching management?
Induction into a western tradition of academic scholarship
What’s your ‘academic comfort zone’, and how could you expand it?
Official expectations that you will develop your critical frame of mind
Expectations check-up
How well does your work match-up to your assessors’ expectations?
Are you a more critical thinker than you realise?
Experiences of thinking critically in your academic work
Helping yourself learn to think like an expert management researcher
Comparing lists of Dos and Don’ts
Maximising your learning by linking critical reading with self-critical writing
Official expectations that you will develop your critical frame of mind

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:

 (A) Research skills and techniques - to be able to demonstrate:

  1. the ability to recognise and validate problems
  2. original, independent and critical thinking, and the ability to develop theoretical concepts
  3. a knowledge of recent advances within one’s field and in related areas
  4. an understanding of relevant research methodologies and techniques and their appropriate application within one’s research field
  5. the ability to critically analyse and evaluate one’s findings and those of others
  6. 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: 

  • Critical thinking and creativity: managing creative processes in self and others; organizing thoughts, analysis, synthesis, critical appraisal. This includes the capability to identify assumptions, evaluate statements in terms of evidence, detect false logic or reasoning, identify implicit values, define terms adequately and generalise appropriately.
  • 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. Criteria for the award


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