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Performance-based assessment of graduate student research skills: timing, trajectory, and potential thresholds

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The development of research skills and scientific reasoning underpins the mission of graduate education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, yet our understanding of this process is mainly drawn from self-report and faculty survey data. In this study, we empirically investigate the pattern of research skill development using STEM graduate students' written research proposals. Analyses of proposal performance data suggest a potential developmental trajectory of research skills, in which the ability to effectively situate work in context using primary literature, and to generate testable hypotheses, emerge early in students' careers, while other skills, such as data analysis and forming conclusions from data, appear to develop later. We discuss these findings in relation to threshold concepts theory, a framework which posits that intellectual growth occurs in transformative leaps rather than a gradual progression, especially as it applies to graduate student research skill development.
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Keywords: graduate education; higher degree research; performance assessment; threshold concepts

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Office of Research and Graduate Education and Department of Biological Sciences, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, USA 2: Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, USA 3: Department of Educational Leadership and Policies, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, USA 4: Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, USA 5: Center for Teaching and Learning, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA

Publication date: June 1, 2013

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