Skills Earth Sciences

The reflective process

The final tool in a self-regulated learner’s arsenal is reflection. Reflection isn’t static – it can be strengthened through practice. As you continue through the master’s program, we hope reflection becomes a natural process of your learning. As an extension of critical thinking, reflection can benefit our studies in many ways. It allows us to12:

  • Identify new knowledge and consider how we acquired it
  • Provide a record of how our knowledge has grown over time
  • Draw connections between previous knowledge and current topics
  • Identify where breakdown of knowledge may occur
  • Strengthen our reflective muscle, for application in future studies and career prospects

Thinking deeply about a past failure strengthens the mind’s response to stress. Recent studies have shown that researchers who write critically on their own setbacks have reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol, allowing them more control over similarly stressful tasks in the future13. Self-regulated learning is a cycle, and proper reflection is key to successfully perpetuating the cycle.

After having studied, it is useful to reflect on what you have done. Writing down reflective overthought does not seem very tempting, yet it is important to realise that once done it can help you with processing your own thoughts. Thus, to reflect, you need to have the courage to face and confront your own thoughts. As you probably know repetition is integral to learning — the reason why is recognition. Recognition, realizing something has happened before, prompts your brain to revisit neural paths and strengthen the knowledge of which other sidewalks or exits are common alongside this path. With reflection one can effectively label thoughts and generalise them, causing you to not only think reflectively but act more thoughtfully in real time. For example, you may realise when you are procrastinating again. This “in the moment” realization is possible after having reflected on all the early warning signals in your mind. A useful exercise is to write these down to categorise them with known problems which you have experienced before.