Princeton Professor's 'Resumé Of Failures' Will Make You Feel Better About Your Own Setbacks

"This CV of Failures is an attempt to balance the record and provide some perspective."

Behind every example of wild success lies a multitude of failed attempts. Well aware that these failures may not be immediately obvious to others, Princeton professor Johannes Haushofer decided to publish his "résumé of failures" in the hopes that it will help bring perspective to others who are struggling.

"Most of what I try fails, but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible," Haushofer's CV begins. "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."

The résumé encompasses a list of programs, scholarships, fellowships, and paper and funding rejections Haushofer has received throughout his career. Having initially created the résumé in 2011 to help encourage a friend, Haushofer told The Washington Post that he decided to make it public after some positive responses:

I'm hoping that it will be a source of perspective at times when things aren't going well, especially for students and my fellow young researchers.


Johannes Haushofer/Princeton
Johannes Haushofer/Princeton

Haushofer cites an article from scientist Melanie Stefan as inspiration for his résumé of failures. Stefan wrote her piece after her own fellowship application was rejected.

"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," she said. "Therefore, whenever we experience an individual failure, we feel alone and dejected."

In contrast to public figures' equally public setbacks, in professions such as Stefan's, failures are not broadcasted for the world to see. 

"So here is my suggestion," Stefan wrote. "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."


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