Glassy carbon is a graphene-rich form of elemental carbon obtained from pyrolysis of polymers, which is composed of three-dimensionally arranged, curved graphene fragments alongside fractions of disordered carbon and voids. Pyrolysis encompasses gradual heating of polymers at ≥ 900 °C under inert atmosphere, followed by cooling to room temperature. Here we report on an experimental method to perform in situ high-resolution transmission electron microscopy (HR-TEM) for the direct visualization of microstructural evolution in a pyrolyzing polymer in the 500–1200 °C temperature range. The results are compared with the existing microstructural models of glassy carbon. Reported experiments are performed at 80 kV acceleration voltage using MEMS-based heating chips as sample substrates to minimize any undesired beam-damage or sample preparation induced transformations. The outcome suggests that the geometry, expansion and atomic arrangement within the resulting graphene fragments constantly change, and that the intermediate structures provide important cues on the evolution of glassy carbon. A complete understanding of the pyrolysis process will allow for a general process tuning specific to the precursor polymer for obtaining glassy carbon with pre-defined properties.