Saturday, December 21, 2019

How to determine research potential

(Last update: 19 January 2024)

As professors, we are often on the lookout for graduate/undergraduate students (or junior faculty) with research potential to join our research groups.  We want to encourage these students to pursue graduate studies in order to further advance the field by becoming researchers or professors in the future.

We base our evaluation initially on their grades from the courses they took. Our belief/claim is that the higher the General Weighted Average (GWA) of a student, the higher the research potential.  

Research potential, as described in Costromina et. al. (2014), is a multidimensional and multilayered system of individual psychological traits (motivational, cognitive, and behavioral characteristics) that act together to allow an individual to conduct research activity efficiently and fruitfully.  These traits are described below:


  • Intolerance for ambiguity - capacity to experience positive feelings in new, unstructured, and varied situations
  • Satisfaction in solving problems - capacity to feel gratification from the process of finding ways and means for coping with scientific tasks
  • Intellectual curiosity - the conscious desire to receive information about objects and to enjoy learning
  • Intolerance for novelty - reveals thirst for experimentation, innovations, etc.


  • Flexible thinking - can overcome conventional thinking
  • Critical thinking - capacity to reveal mistakes and inconsistency, to correct errors, justify the validity of hypothesis
  • Logical thinking - ability to use facts and laws to confirm the accuracy of conclusions promptly
  • Quick thinking - ability to understand the situation and to make decisions in a timely manner
  • Original thinking - capacity to propose new, unconventional ideas


  • Self-organization - structuring of a researcher's personal activity to reach objectives
  • Self-control - following research procedures and completing work tasks
  • Adaptability - reduces time necessary to accept the changing conditions of a research task
  • Assertiveness - maintaining stability while working in unstable conditions

Costromina et. al. (2014) conducted a study to compare undergraduates, master's students, and professors along the above dimensions. In their conclusion, they were able to obtain data on the high predictive validity of theoretical abilities in defining students' level of research potential.

"Theoretical thinking abilities are the aggregate of analytical and synthesizing
skills aimed at identifying common features and qualities of objects, as well as abili-
ties aimed at generalization and abstract thinking. These abilities function at a high
level along with a broad vocabulary range, and they reflect one’s ability to think in
the abstract."

At the undergraduate level, intolerance for novelty, self-control, adaptability, assertiveness and critical thinking are the characteristics that should have been developed, according to the study.

It seems, therefore, that the use of GWA as first screener of a student's research potential is valid. In addition however, a student should also be evaluated based on the traits described above.