Friday, November 26, 2010

Celebration of Failure

The Failure Of Man
Details the failure of man in every dispensation.

from Dispensational Charts
by Clarence Larkin

In a recent Nature Careers Column, post-doc Melanie Stefan argues that it's helpful to publicize your failures. The idea is that if others know you have failed to obtain funding or publish papers, it makes them feel better. Hopefully not from schadenfreude, but from the common experience of traversing the minefield of attaining (or maintaining) a lasting career in science.

A CV of failures

Keeping a visible record of your rejected applications can help others to deal with setbacks, says Melanie Stefan.

A couple of months ago, I received a letter informing me that my fellowship application had failed....

. . .

As scientists, we construct a narrative of success that renders our setbacks invisible both to ourselves and to others. Often, other scientists' careers seem to be a constant, streamlined series of triumphs. Therefore, whenever we experience an individual failure, we feel alone and dejected.

. . .

So here is my suggestion. Compile an 'alternative' CV of failures. Log every unsuccessful application, refused grant proposal and rejected paper. Don't dwell on it for hours, just keep a running, up-to-date tally. If you dare — and can afford to — make it public. It will be six times as long as your normal CV. It will probably be utterly depressing at first sight. But it will remind you of the missing truths, some of the essential parts of what it means to be a scientist — and it might inspire a colleague to shake off a rejection and start again.

I have periodically engaged in such a masochistic exercise. And no, I have never publicized the List of Failure or the Table of Failure™ (Excel spreadsheet). I'm not that magnanimous...

My setbacks are all too visible to myself. Would it really make you feel better to read about them?


Stefan M (2010). A CV of failures. Nature 468: 467.


Through pain the land of pain,
Through tender exiguity,
Through cruel self-suspicion:
Thus came I to this inch of wholeness.

It was a promise.
After pain, I said,
An inch will be what never a boasted mile.

And haughty judgement,
That frowned upon a faultless plan,
Now smiles upon this crippled execution,
And my dashed beauty praises me.

-Laura Riding

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At December 23, 2010 7:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


This is quite beautiful. It speaks to the small abused child in me that tries to quietly move away from pain in gaining strides...but somehow ends back again.


At January 23, 2013 7:20 PM, Blogger TheCellularScale said...

Yes, it would make me feel better.


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