Embracing the Scientist Mindset: How Rethinking Can Elevate Academics

As academics, we pride ourselves on our intellect, knowledge, and ability to think critically. We spend years honing our expertise in our chosen fields of study. However, one of the most valuable mindsets we can cultivate is the willingness and ability to rethink our assumptions, approaches, and beliefs. Adam Grant’s book “Think Again” provides powerful insights into the importance of rethinking and how to develop this crucial skill.

“We laugh at people who still use Windows 95, yet we still cling to opinions that we formed in 1995.”
― Adam M. Grant

In academia, we often fall into the traps of thinking like “preachers, prosecutors, or politicians,” as Grant describes. We cling to our ideas and theories, preaching their validity and prosecuting those who challenge them. We may even take politically convenient stances, rather than following the evidence wherever it leads. However, to truly advance knowledge and understanding, we must strive to think like scientists.

The scientist mindset involves actively seeking out information that contradicts our beliefs, humbly acknowledging our blindspots, and revising our views based on new data. It means treating our opinions as hypotheses to be tested, rather than immutable truths. This approach is essential for academics because the nature of knowledge is constantly evolving, and what we consider “facts” today may be disproven or refined tomorrow.

One of the biggest obstacles to rethinking in academia is our attachment to our identities and reputations as experts. Admitting we were wrong can feel like a threat to our credibility and sense of self. However, as Grant points out, “Confident humility is a corrective lens: it enables us to overcome those weaknesses.” True expertise lies not in clinging to outdated ideas but in the ability to adapt and grow with new information.

Personally, I have found great value in embracing a rethinking mindset. It’s ok, and even beneficial, to change our minds when presented with compelling evidence. As scientists, we should encourage the formulation of hypotheses, testing, refining, and retesting – applying this same rigorous process to our teaching methods, research approaches, and theoretical frameworks.

One aspect of the book that resonated deeply with me is the idea that it’s better to be wrong early and learn from mistakes than to stubbornly cling to incorrect beliefs. Learning from errors is far more valuable than maintaining a flawless but stagnant record. As academics, we should foster an environment where mistakes are seen as opportunities for growth, not sources of shame or embarrassment.

To cultivate a rethinking culture in academia, we must build “challenge networks” – groups of colleagues, students, and experts who will respectfully but firmly question our assumptions and push us to consider alternative perspectives. We should also strive to embody the traits of “confident humility,” maintaining confidence in our ability to uncover truth while remaining open to revising our methods and conclusions.

Ultimately, embracing a rethinking mindset is not a sign of weakness but a strength. It demonstrates intellectual honesty, curiosity, and a commitment to the relentless pursuit of knowledge. As academics, we have a responsibility to model this approach, not just within our research but in our teaching and mentorship of the next generation of thinkers and leaders.

So, let us challenge ourselves to rethink our ways of thinking, to approach our work with the open-minded curiosity of scientists, and to create environments where rethinking is not just accepted but celebrated. By doing so, we can elevate the quality of our scholarship, push the boundaries of our disciplines, and inspire those around us to embrace lifelong learning and growth.

Action Items to Develop a Rethinking Mindset:

  1. Conduct a “rethinking audit” – Identify areas where you may be stubbornly holding onto beliefs, methods or approaches without enough evidence. Openly discuss these with colleagues.
  2. Build your “challenge network” – Actively seek out people who will constructively question your thinking and push you to consider other perspectives. Value disagreement.
  3. Practice “confident humility” – Be confident in your ability to uncover truth, while staying humble about your current knowledge and open to updating your views.
  4. Embrace mistakes as learning opportunities – When you realize you were wrong about something, celebrate it as a chance to gain new insights rather than a failure.
  5. Model rethinking for your students – Openly discuss times when you have changed your mind based on new information. Encourage them to challenge assumptions.


Rethinking is not just a skill for academics – it’s an ethical obligation. By clinging too tightly to our current beliefs, we obstruct progress and the advancement of knowledge. We have a responsibility to relentlessly question, test, update and refine our understanding of the world.

So I challenge you: reflect deeply on your mindset and approach. Are you truly exhibiting the openness and curiosity of a scientist? Or have you fallen into patterns of preaching, prosecuting and politicking?

The path to greater wisdom and insight begins by admitting “I don’t know” and developing the humble confidence to rethink everything. It’s an ongoing process of growth, one that demonstrates true leadership in academia.

Embrace rethinking not just as an intellectual exercise, but as a way of being and relating to the world. Model it for your colleagues, students and mentees. Our disciplines, institutions and society will be elevated when we fully embody the mindset of a scientist – curiously and optimistically pursuing truth, no matter how unconventional or disruptive it may be.

Are you ready to boldly rethink your way of thinking? The quest for knowledge depends on it.

Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant