True Grit: Just how gritty are modern students?

Hi folks,

Apologies for the silence on the blog for the last few weeks. I have been down at a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning  Conference in Georgia last week (note to self: never fly United again, its like a budget bus trip), and Roger has been publishing his new creative science teaching textbook (of which more will be revealed shortly). Also he has somehow lost the ability to login and post here. Anyhow, we should have that sorted shortly. So, enough apologies and a quick blog post for now, and we shall do our best to catch up in April.

At the conference I came across an interesting paper by Dr. Ted Cross from Grand Canyon University exploring the use of the Grit psychometric scale and correlations with academic success in online doctoral students. In case you have not come across it, the Grit personality trait measurement is a 5 point positive, non-cognitive scale based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or end state coupled with their motivation to achieve this objective. The maximum score on the scale is 5 (extremely gritty), and  the lowest scale on this scale is 1 (not at all gritty). Generally Grit can be simply defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals (Duckworth et al., 2007). There is an interesting TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth explaining her work on the scale here:

Overall it seems a well validated psychometric tool, and unlike IQ which remains controversial for any practical predictive ability, and can be culturally insensitive; Grit appears to have less of these problems. Also, Grit, unlike many traditional measures of performance is not tied to intelligence. Interestingly, Cross reported Grit was well correlated with GPA, but not with Standard Test scores in the USA. Unfortunately, he found the scale was not sensitive enough to be useful to explain differences within the doctoral students he tested it with, or predict likely success (after all these are already a highly-skewed, high achieving population and the test is designed for general population use).

To test your own grit try the Penn State University online test here, or the paper one here:  I came out as more gritty than 75% of Americans, which seems perfectly reasonable, given my career history, but penchant to always want to explore some new aspect in my work.

So what does this mean for us scientists? Well Grit is also associated with longer term and multi-year goals and science is a long-term business, requiring dedicated persistence to advance in a field, often in small steps. It is also worth considering how today’s millennial, multi-tasking, short attention span learners are likely to fare in careers in science, or if we can actually have any impact on this trait as educators, or make our educational practices more appealing to intelligent students who are less gritty.

Also, I must admit I wondered, given the range of papers presented at the conference (from the very postmodern to the very post-positivist) of the possibilities of developing a trait scale to predict the likelihood of a person being susceptible to believing in unscientific nonsense (such as homeopathy, ghouls and ghosts, bigfoot, alien abductions, etc etc.). Maybe there is one out there in the world of psychometric testing? Not so much a gullibility scale, as a tendency towards fallibility scale. This would seem a personality trait that could be measured with practical uses. Knowing your own tendency towards fallibility could help in the analytical process. After all, even the most intelligent individual can be fooled quite easily (just look at famous scientists and academics who adopt bizarre and unfounded beliefs later in their careers: Dr Oz springs to mind amongst others). I must investigate further!

Onwards and upwards,



Duckworth, A.L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M.D., & Kelly, D.R. (2007). “Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals”. Personality Processes and Individual Differences, 92 (6), p. 1087.