Critical Thinking: What?

by | July 15, 2009

First let me preface by saying that this is a conversation that needs to occur with everyone interested in or actively pursuing an education. These conversations should be happening in public schools, at the undergraduate level, and in master’s and doctoral programs. It is my intent to open this forum up for discussion and hopefully spark dialogue about reinforcing solutions to this social (yep, I said it) issue!

Elder (2009) writes:

Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking that aims to take the reasoning we all do naturally to a higher level. It is the art of analyzing and evaluating with the goal of improving thought. When making a decision, it is the difference between weighing information to come to a logical conclusion and making snap judgments without understanding the information.

This is a good definition of what critical thinking is. This higher lever of thinking is not just something to consider: it is a necessity in our daily lives, and a requirement in doctoral programs! Advisors often have conversations with learners in a doctoral program who are unhappy and stressed. There are many reasons: mentor issues, learners feel like they should be making faster progress, financial barriers, life issues, health problems, family matters, etc. The outcome of these conversations often depends on one factor: How is the learner thinking about this issue?

A metaphor for you: If you have a problem with a co-worker, do you try and work it out or do you just quit your job? THINK about it. If you are struggling with any relationship (i.e. mentor, spouse, etc.) and you haven’t earnestly tried to work it out with them, does it really make sense just to “quit” them and try to find someone else? The point is that most issues are resolved with solid communication. This requires us to think critically of what we want, why we want it, when we expect it, where do we go to get it, and how will it change.

One of my favorite pieces of advise it this: Never make a decision based on emotions – always logic it out first. This is an exercise in critical thinking! Jumping to conclusions (we have all been there!) typically never has a good outcome. When a learner calls with a mentor issue, for example, my first question is always going to be “What did the mentor say when you addressed this with them?” Surprisingly, many learners haven’t done so.

I will be addressing the what, why, when, where, and how in upcoming postings, so that we can try to focus on really thinking about these critically and hopefully come up with strategies that will have a positive impact on your program!


Elder, L. (2009). Are you a critical thinker? Quality thought is vital. So why don’t schools foster it? [Electronic version]. The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved on July 14, 2009 from

One Response to "Critical Thinking: What?"

  1. Bill Bartmann says:

    Cool site, love the info.