A Novel Course Sequence on Critical Thinking for the Professional Development of Graduate Students

Document Type

Conference Proceeding


It is commonly assumed that advanced-degree candidates matriculate with a high level of critical thinking skills, or learn these skills from the major professor during their research apprenticeship (Lee 2008). Considerable investigations at both the undergraduate (Arum & Roksa 2011) and graduate (Walker & Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. 2008) level call this assumption (and the traditional “apprenticeship” model of graduate education) into serious question. We hypothesize that common faculty concerns about their graduate students (e.g. poor writing and speaking skills; inability to comprehend and act on the literature; inability to develop independence of thought; etc.) are broadly related to lack of understanding of critical thinking, and inability to make application in the particular realm of advanced graduate research (Goodwin 2014, Parker 2012).

We have created and taught two, one-credit graduate courses for engineering (STEM) graduate students at the University of South Carolina, in which the Paul-Elder model of critical thinking (Paul & Elder 2012)is presented explicitly. The courses are designed for just-in-time intervention to graduate students at three key junctures in their programs of study. The first course, in year 1, is for new graduate students who have selected an advisor and a lab, and are beginning to develop an understanding of their research project. The course focuses on information literacy: finding, assessing, and critically reading the research literature relevant to their new project. The term project is a written critical review of literature that is relevant to some aspect of their “new” project. The second course, in year 2, is for graduate students who are preparing to write or present their work in a professional venue. The course focuses on writing, in the standards of the discipline, but with an explicit view of meeting critical thinking standards. Disciplinary standards are often presented narrowly, but should be viewed as derived from universal standards of critical thinking.

We will present the critical thinking model and course materials including course syllabi, typical assignments, and methods for effectively assessing student work. We will specifically discuss how the courses have been designed to work within the constraints of typical graduate degree program requirements and within the resource constraints of engineering graduate programs.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

APA Citation

Matthews, M. A., Freeburg, D., Brock, K., & Kunz, G. M. (2019, June). A novel course sequence on critical thinking for the professional development of graduate students. In 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition.