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GSR 984: Thinking Critically - Professional Skills for Global Citizens

It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Dr. Richard Cassidy, professor emeritus and one of the original developers of GSR 984, passed away on June 19, 2013. Since the course began, Richard had been actively involved as a facilitator and had influenced numerous graduate students in their development of professional and critical thinking skills. He will be dearly missed. A full obituary can be read here.

Why GSR 984?

It is the theory that decides what we can observe. Or modified slightly, It is our theories and thinking that decides what we can observe." - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

GSR 984 provides a supportive and challenging setting for graduate students to develop the creative and critical thinking skills required for professional practice.The class meets weekly and uses a small group discussion format in a multicultural and multidisciplinary environment. GSR984 focuses on foundational frameworks of thinking (often invisible to us) that are used for almost everything we do in our personal and professional lives. The key theme, creative and critical thinking involves a process of thinking about thinking in which identifying our assumptions and reflecting to enhance learning and thinking, are built into every session. Each session will contain reflection activities (for both facilitators and students) to help ensure that the course content and activities remain grounded in the realities of work and life. 

By taking GSR 984 you will:

  • Identify a number of professional skills you need to focus on as you develop your professional and personal goals.
  • Become aware of your conceptual frameworks and develop thinking skills, to identify assumptions and biases in your and other’s thinking.
  • Develop an appreciation of differences in the thinking in diverse disciplines and how to interact within multidisciplinary groups.
  • Learn to appreciate the importance of group dynamics for problem solving and learning.
  • Develop a personal understanding of how disciplinary excellence requires reflection on how you think, what you believe, and how you act

Ask Our Students

In past years, graduate students have found GSR 984 an exciting opportunity for exploring, challenging, and expanding their ways of knowing and communicating. Visit our Accolades tabs to find out what our graduates have to say about this course, and why you should consider taking it to further your professional career. You can also watch the short video to learn what six of the more than 200 graduate students who have participated in GSR 984 say about their transformative experience in the course:

Please note: if you are using Internet Explorer, you must hover your cursor directly above this note to view the video controls. If you are not able to view the video, try using either Safari or Firefox.

Who's Teaching

Course Coordinators and Facilitators

The format, content, goals, facilitation, and administration of GSR984 are discussed and developed via a Community of Practice. A Community of Practice is a flexible organization made up of a wide range of individuals interested in a common purpose. The GSR984 CoP benefits from the input of a wide variety of expertises from communities within and outside of the University of Saskatchewan. The routine administration and facilitation of the 2013 program is coordinated by a core group within this CoP, made up of the following persons:

Instructional Team Lead: Trisha Dowling (Professor, Western College of Veterinary Medicine)

Co-Instructional Team Lead: John Thompson (Professor Emeritus, Sociology)


  • Jayne Hudson (Retired School Principal with Expertise in Consensus Decision Making)
  • Gerald Seniuk (Retired Chief Judge of Saskatchewan)
  • Jim Greer (Director, University Learning Centre)
  • Kim West (Educational Development Specialist, GMCTE)
  • Patricia Farnese (Assistant Professor, College of Law)
  • Keith Walker (Professor, College of Education, Educational Administration)
  • Sandra Beardsall (Professor, St. Andrew's College)

Graduate Student Facilitators:

  • Jamie Rothenburger (Senior Resident, Western College of Veterinary Medicine)
  • Colleen George (School of Environment & Sustainability)

 Other guest facilitators may also lead and participate in some of the discussions.

About this Course

This course works to meet concerns expressed by Tri-Council Granting Agencies and the Canadian Association of Graduate Studies about the need to include a wide range of professional skills within Canadian graduate programs to enable graduate students to excel in responsibly engaging and leading our complex global communities into the future, to making a difference.

The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend." - Henri Bergson, French Philosopher and Educator

Course Requirements

  • Attend all six session (Wednesdays evenings in Term 2, 2014 from 6 to 9 pm). 
  • Come prepared, by reading and interacting with the on-line material (posted on Blackboard) before class.
  • Participate in the group discussions.
  • Write a short, focused reflection exercise after each session (~20 to 30 min maximum).
  • Write a reflective essay at the conclusion of the course.

Recognition of completion of this non-credit course will appear on transcripts if you have met all requirements (exceptions discussed below*)

* If special circumstances prevent a student from attending a class the student must inform one of the facilitators (prior to the session if possible).  Under these circumstances the student will still be expected to read the on-line pre class material, briefly discuss the class with someone who attended, write a one page summary of the class content, and complete the reflective exercise. Only under very unusual circumstances will students be allowed to miss more than one class.  If circumstances do arise that prevent you from attending several classes, please discuss you situation with a facilitator and we can arrange to take your name off the class list to ensure that you will not receive an “Incomplete” or some other grade for the course on your transcript.


Who should apply?

This course is open to graduate students registered at the University of Saskatchewan. Post-doctoral fellows or other interested persons at the University of Saskatchewan may also apply to register through contacting the Gwenna Moss Centre.

  • There is no fee associated with GSR 984. The course appears on your transcript as a 0-credit unit course with a grade of "credit" or "fail."

How to apply

Applications are processed in the order they are received and spaces are limited. Please read the application form carefully. If you are a current graduate student at the University of Saskatchewan, or your information is incomplete, we will be unable to process your application.

You will be notified when your application has been successful. Instructions on how to register for the course through PAWS will be provided to successful applicants.

Application Form

Completed applications are to be dropped off to:

The Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness

Room 50 Murray Building, University of Saskatchewan

3 Campus Drive Saskatoon, SK Canada S7N 5A4

Fax: (306) 966-2242

Emailed applications are not accepted.

Application Form


Jan 8Introduction and discussions of primary processes in human thinking.Elephant and rider metaphor.  Pizza social at end of the session. Individual pictures taken during social.
Jan 15How unexamined societal and cultural structures influence our thinkingand behaviour.
Jan 22How personal assumptions about talent, intelligence, and failure shape our learning and creativity.
Jan 29How ‘innate’ personal preferences (personality) shape how we think about questions/problems.
Feb 5How culturally and societally constructed concepts, such as leadership, influence how we approach our profession and other aspects of our lives.
Feb 12Challenges and barriers to the application of objective reasoning. Assessment of course.  Summary reflection exercise for whole course.


In 2006 a number of former GSR 984 students were asked to offer their perspectives their experience with GSR 984. These students took GSR 984 from 2 to10 years ago, and have different disciplinary and work experiences, as indicated below. Many of the outcomes identified by the students were tranformative, and included such aspects as: exposed and challenged previous assumptions; developed recognition of the importance of multidisciplinary discussions of ideas; learned about the limitation of human thinking; developed new perspectives and skills that continue to influence research, work, and everyday living.

Disciplinary Background of Former Students Providing Statements:

  • Sociology, PhD student, U of S
  • Exploration Geology, PhD, Perth, Australia
  • Commerce, PhD, new faculty at Wilfred Laurier University
  • Chemistry, PhD, Weyeth Pharmaceutical, Virginia
  • Education and Accountant, PhD student, U of S
  • Philosophy, PhD student, Laval University
  • Engineering, Environmental Activist, MSc student, U of S
  • Private Business and Education, MEd, U of S
  • Geography, PhD student, Waterloo University
  • Geochemistry, PhD, Technology Transfer Consultant, Universität Potsdam, Germany

Summary of Statements From Students (click to expand)

Interdisciplinary Impact
  • GSR 984 stood out as highlight -collectively learning had broader implications than what my sub-discipline was focused on and produced unexpected and enlightening results
  • bringing together people from many disciplines to discuss an issue forces one to re-examine one's assumptions
  • provides an experience that is not otherwise available
  • innovative approaches that start with a novel multidisciplinary interpretation of the framework
  • emphasis on discussion certainly helped me to learn and also to unlearn a lot of things
  • faced with a room full of peers from wide-ranging disparate disciplines, different cultures and dissimilar life paths and tasked with discussing issues with the eye of a critical thinker, permanently altered my conscious world
  • communication and understanding and thinking across disciplinary and cultural borders are keys and warrants for success, progress and conflict prevention
Class Format
  • chances to get to know people one would generally not have the chance to come into contact, let alone learn from and with, were invaluable
  • case study and discussion format used for the classes facilitated learning
  • the format of the class was a very effective vehicle for getting us to think about thing
  • course material valuable, memorable, and worthy of sharing with my peers
  • provocative and stimulating in their approach of not lecturing, but presenting ideas, questions and setting up open discussions
  • one of the most interesting things is that the discussions did not end in the classroom
  • develops a community of critical thinkers who feel safe and empowered to share their experiences and knowledge.
Effect On Thinking
  • learned decisions are based on our beliefs and personalities
  • refreshing to learn something new about the way we think
  • challenged my thinking on complex issues
  • an eye opener - how knowledge is created
  • immensely invaluable to me in terms of thinking " outside the ethnocentric box”
  • enabled me to be far more critical, objective and yet considerate of other disciplines
  • even with my background in philosophy, I found it very rich and stimulating
  • challenged my accepted beliefs
  • permanently altered my conscious world
  • all students should be encouraged to assess how their historical, cultural and personal worldviews have been shaped by powerful forces
  • learned to question what we may not have even considered ethical issues in the past
  • I gained valuable understanding and significantly broadened my horizon
  • recognition of parallelism between scientific and societal or ideological developments was an eye-opener
Impact on Studies and Work
  • learning can be fun at the same time
  • I have constantly thought about how it applies in my research
  • In my research, I have applied concepts I have learned about critical thinking and to complex issues especially in ethics and standard setting in the accounting domain
  • learned that you needed to make these different assumptions explicit when writing up your research
  • expanded my range of thinking and removed an ethnocentric (i.e. interest or field of research group) lens, which I believe has benefited my research
  • an invaluable addition to any education - "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."
  • the new ideas and approaches to problem solving that were presented have stuck with me and guided many of my decisions and personal research interests
  • made an early impact in my career
  • good to foster team work and leadership abilities
  • think critically during my studies but also in my research with the Aboriginal Education Research Centre (AERC) and my self-employment within the film industry
  • as an educator I will affect thousands of other people over time and will continue to seed attention to critical thinking or “thinking about our thinking”
  • taken my new knowledge of historical worldviews, personality, the effect of language, leadership, racialization, ethics and all the other topics into my work
  • “Critical thinking” has helped me realizing that a university degree is not about recording and reproducing data but it is more about learning how to solve problems by means of communication as leader, team member or colleague
  • an indispensable asset for a successful career with a responsible approach
  • benefited from it both in life and at work

If you want to read more about this course and foundational skills, download the  Current issue (PDF icon) Full Course Overview: GSR 984.

For more information or to join the conversation visit GSR984's blog, Beyond Disciplinary Excellence