Fostering Growth Mindset in Grad Students

People with a fixed mindset believe that their traits are set in stone – they have a certain amount of intelligence and nothing will change that. The opposite of this is the growth mindset – people see their qualities as things that they can develop through effort and practice” (Gallagher, 2014, their emphasis).

According to Carol Dweck, Growth Mindset is something anyone can have. Realizing the importance and weight of this mindset practice, many K-12 educators are actively incorporating mindset lessons into their curriculum. But what about graduate students? Because they’re more advanced, it’s easy to assume that graduate students have already mastered the growth mindset. But that may not be true.

Graduate students are not immune to having a fixed mindset. Achievement may have come naturally to them in the past, and the concept of working hard, regardless of their ability, may be foreign (Swaminathan, 2012). Graduate courses may come as a shock to their learning process. Especially in early courses of graduate programs, students experience fixed mindset in the form of Imposter Syndrome. Students are suddenly surrounded by extremely accomplished faculty and peers, and can feel inadequate.

Often, perfectionism and imposter syndrome go hand in hand (Weir, 2013). When a person is used to being right, they might hesitate, or even resist, ever being “wrong.” Students will sometimes forego growth out of fear of the knowledge that they are not already grown, that growth is still necessary for them to succeed. If left unchecked, this response can become a huge obstacle to their success. Most work in this area is highly individualized, and students must navigate this themselves. However, instructors can help to encourage a growth mindset in their students in a number of ways:

Using announcements in courses

When instructors notice trends, in the form of shared student accomplishments or common student struggles, it can be helpful to post announcements to the class. This can help students feel like they are on track, or at the very least, not alone in their struggle.

Scaffolding assignments

Whenever possible, breaking content into manageable parts leading up to a large project is a great way to foster growth mindset naturally. Little wins along the way can make the difference in how confident a student feels and can impact their performance.

Being available

A conversation with an instructor may be all that is necessary to get a student back on track. They may simply need reassurance that they are meeting the expectations for the course, or that they fully understand an assignment.

When graduate students begin their programs, they are often surprised at the inadequacies they feel. Understanding the struggles students are facing can help instructors to connect to students and may even make the difference in whether or not these obstacles are overcome.

References

Dweck, C. (2014). Developing a Growth Mindset. Ted Talk. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve

Gallagher, K. (2014). Fixed vs Growth Mindsets: What I wish I knew before entering grad school. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/gradhacker/fixed-vs-growth-mindsets

Swaminathan, N. (2012). What predicts grad school success? GradPsych Magazine, American Psychological Association. September 2012. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2012/09/cover-success.aspx

Walker, K (2013). The imposter syndrome. Ted Talk. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xe9oSV9tZE0

Weir, K. (2013). Feel like a fraud? American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx

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