The CV of failures (and what this means for early career researchers…)

This week, Professor Haushofer from Princeton University has published his CV of ‘failures’ . The publishing of this ‘backstory’ of academic labour, things which don’t work out, grants that don’t get funded, papers that don’t get accepted, jobs for which you don’t get appointed, has captured the imagination of social media. Prof. Haushofer wrily noted after the wide circulation of this ‘CV of failures’ that his career “meta-failure” was that “This darn CV of Failures has received way more attention that my entire body of academic work.”

Humour aside, by demonstrating his failures, the professor in question has drawn into the light of aspects often deeply hidden from the public gaze. In a profession such as academia, where  research success is measured by the ability to achieve (publications, grants, conference presentations, impact) seeing the flipside of success, the aspects which don’t work out, has perhaps unsurprisingly been viewed as refreshing.

The relevance of the ‘CV of failures’ for early career researchers, should not be underestimated. Getting publications is hard, getting grants is hard, securing a permanent academic job is hard, but it does happen AND for all the times those things happen for people, there are examples of things which have not worked out for the very same people. As an early career researcher, you are finding your feet in academia, so sometimes the failure rate can feel more brutal, but as you learn the rules of the game, you sharpen your skills, just as have you throughout your undergraduate education, PhD journey or first forays into teaching experience. For every paper published, the author may have had major revisions, or rejections from other journals. The successful grant? That may  have been a proposal which has been reworked after being unsuccessful in a previous scheme. The moral of the story? Tenacity is required, but take comfort, failure occurs for everyone as they build their academic careers, and it continues to happen even as people become more successful. Just because you see the outwards facing positively framed presentation of academic success does not mean there is not a private frame of ‘fails’, of things which get chalked up to experience. Perhaps, if like Prof. Haushofer we saw more of the ‘fails’ visibly as early career researchers then their normality within academic life would be more accepted, and as a result we may all be a bit kinder to ourselves in both the moments of failure, and of success.

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