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Researcher Development

Researcher Development

Critical thinking as a researcher

Hopefully you’re somewhat convinced that critical thinking is an important, timeless skill with various benefits and applications. But in academia specifically, it is a skill you’ll often find being emphasised as necessary for academic success. From undergraduate level, higher marks are achieved when elements of critical thinking are displayed, and in academic publications, evaluation of theories, methodologies and research findings are heavily featured – so clearly, it is important at all levels of academia. Not to mention, job postings for research roles tend to specify skills associated with critical thinking in their criteria for an ideal candidate.

But why is being able to think critically so important for us as researchers?

Before we dive into this question in more detail in later sections, let’s address this question more broadly. Here is a job description of a researcher according to a recruitment website:

Researcher Responsibilities:

Interpreting research specifications and developing a work plan that satisfies requirements.

Conducting desktop research, and using books, journal articles, newspaper sources, questionnaires, surveys, polls, and interviews to gather data.

Analyzing and interpreting patterns and trends.

Recording findings by taking written notes and using appropriate software.

Maintaining and protecting electronic databases.

Assisting management with budget and time schedules.

Anticipating research issues and promptly resolving them.

Promptly reporting any problems to the relevant stakeholders.

Following a strict code of ethics and protecting any confidential information at all times.

Writing proposals and delivering presentations when required.


Looking at this list, there are many responsibilities that align with the values and practises of critical thinking. For instance, being able to gather evidence and data from different sources, analysing and interpreting that data, being able to identify and report issues and work towards solutions, and presenting ideas and information with a logical structure. Furthermore, someone who engages in critical thinking would bring their flexible, curious and objectivity-seeking qualities to responsibilities such as conducting research, providing assistance and completing time-sensitive tasks, as well as adhering to a code of practise. So, researchers: don’t shy away from emphasising your critical thinking skills in job applications!

According to Vitae’s Researcher Development Framework (RDF), designed by researchers, for researchers, as a tool to enhance their development, critical thinking is one of the skills necessary for researchers to develop their knowledge and intellectual abilities and techniques for conducting research (see: A2 below)


Graphic: Image of the of Vitae’s Researcher Development Framework. Full version of the framework can be downloaded here.

Graphic: A snapshot of the RDF which details the phrases through which critical thinking can be developed further for researchers. Find on page 6 of the full RDF linked above.

The RDF emphasises how as we develop ourselves as researchers, we also take our critical thinking skills further – from being able to use critical thinking to understanding arguments, to applying critical thinking skills creatively. These stages of development are similar to Bloom’s Taxonomy, which was covered in the previous section.

I asked academics the following question: What does Critical Thinking mean to you as a researcher? These are their responses:

You can also download a transcript and PowerPoint slides for this video.

At the end, I mentioned being cautious of over-critical dialogue, and the fine line between criticism and critique. Here is a great article that elaborates on this from the Times Higher Education.

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