Johannes Haushofer, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs, at the prestigious Princeton University, has been in the news this week, for publishing his CV of failures, on Twitter.
In the professional world, a CV is used to reflect one’s achievements, so why would Haushofer take time out and document all the things he failed at instead? His reason is simple.
“Most of what I try fails, but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible. I have noticed that this sometimes gives others the impression that most things work out for me. As a result, they are more likely to attribute their own failures to themselves, rather than the fact that the world is stochastic, applications are crapshoots, and selection committees and referees have bad days. This CV of Failures is an attempt to balance the record and provide some perspective,” he said.
Melanie Stefan, a postdoc in Neurobiology at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, wrote an article a couple of years ago, that inspired him to create the CV of Failures. In her article, she writes, “My CV does not reflect the bulk of my academic efforts — it does not mention the exams I failed, my unsuccessful PhD or fellowship applications, or the papers never accepted for publication. At conferences, I talk about the one project that worked, not about the many that failed.”
As you can see, Haushofer’s CV outlines all degree programs he got rejected from, all the positions and fellowships that he was not accepted into, all the awards and scholarships that he did not receive, all the papers that were not deemed fit for publishing in various academic journals, and all the research funding that he did not get.
What he also notes as a meta-failure – a failure that is above all his other listed failures – is the the fact that his CV of failures has received more attention on the internet, that his entire body academic work, which includes being accepted to University of Oxford for his Bachelor’s, Harvard University for his Master’s, and University of Zurich for his PhD.
Not only this, he has also held positions as a Post-doctoral Fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology(MIT), and Prize Fellow at Harvard University, before Princeton. He has been a recipient of 8 prestigious awards and scholarships, between 1999 to 2014, and has published 33 papers in academic journals. Haushofer also has spoken in seminars at several renowned universities, such as MIT, Cornell University, Yale University, Harvard University, Dartmouth College, University of California – Berkeley, University of Southern California, Northwestern University, and more.
Further in her article, Melanie recalls her most recent rejection that started it all. “A couple of months ago, I received a letter informing me that my fellowship application had failed. On the same day, Brazil’s World Cup squad announced that football phenomenon Ronaldinho had not been selected. “Cool,” I thought. “I am like Ronaldinho.” But that thought offered only little consolation. No scientist enjoys such failures, but too often we hide them.
In a way, a fellowship rejection is to be expected. Most of these fellowships have success rates of about 15%, meaning that an applicant might be successful in only one out of every seven tries. For every hour I’ve spent working on a successful proposal, I’ve spent six hours working on ones that will be rejected. I don’t mind the extra work — after all, if I abhorred tedious tasks with low chances of success, I would not be in research.”
Every year, a substantial demographic of students, are rejected from the university of choice, and do not take the news well.
Harvard having an acceptance rate of 6 percent, you have more chances of winning the lottery twice, than getting in. California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and MIT have an acceptance rate of 9 percent, while Yale University and Priceton sit at a comfortable 7 percent.
In India, IIT Delhi has a 2.5 percent acceptance rate, whereas National Defence Academy(NDA) has 300,000 students giving the entrance exam(according to last year statistics), out of which only 365 are called in for final enrollment.Top 10 Colleges in the world that are hardest to get into.
“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,” she says.
Through her article, Melanie advises everyone to make their own CV of failures, in order to maintain a log of everything you’ve been rejected from. The purpose of this is not to dwell on your failures everytime you look at it, no matter how depressing it looks at first glance, but to address the “missing truth” and to help others around you start again, after they have been turned down for something they really wanted.
As for Johannes Haushofer, he intends to keep updating his CV of failures, as this one was “written just from memory and omits a lot of stuff.”
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“…So if it’s shorter than yours,” he says, “it’s likely because you have better memory, or because you’re better at trying things than me.”