May 4, 2016
— Nature News&Comment (@NatureNews) April 30, 2016
In 2010, Melanie Stefan published in Nature a column titled A CV of failures, where she argues that “keeping a visible record of your rejected applications can help others to deal with setbacks.” Another article was published in 2015 in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Devoney Looser titled Me and My Shadow CV, “what would my vita look like if it recorded not just the successes of my professional life but also the many, many rejections?”
At this point, you might be doing a double-take on what you just read. Yes, people are pulling together a listing of exactly the opposite of what we celebrate on our CV’s. Instead of sharing accomplishments, faculty and researchers are compiling a list of papers rejected, grants denied, awards not received, and so much more that was not accomplished on their journey to and existence as a professional.
Here is a small sampling of shadow CV’s I have found online:
- Johannes Haushofer, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs, Princeton University (and an interesting related article in The Washington Post, “Why it feels so good to read about this Princeton professor’s failures“)
- Jeremy Fox, Associate Professor of Population Ecology, University of Calgary
- Veronika Cheplygina, postdoctoral researcher at the Biomedical Imaging Group Rotterdam, Erasmus Medical Center
- Jessica Vitak, Assistant Professor in the College of Information Studies, University of Maryland
- Sara Rywe, generated while she was a 3rd year Bachelor student at Stockholm School of Economics
Chances are, we will be seeing more of these documents appearing on the internet…
I think I'll write and post my own "failure CV." I'll show the world REAL failure!
— Anna Peak (@AnnaLPeak) May 1, 2016
But is publicly airing all of your failures accomplishing what you want? Sonia Sodha wrote for The Guardian that “Only successful people can afford a CV of failure“, and I would extend her analysis to junior and non-tenured faculty that cannot risk airing a list of what they could not do during critical times of review. Can a listing of all that we don’t achieve make our peers feel better about what they have not done, while at the same time not discourage the next generation of scientists from even starting their journey? Does a shadow CV instill confidence in our expertise and credibility with our students enrolled in our classes and programs?
The #negativeCV is cool. But it is not a catalog of failure, it is the public airing of the steps taken toward success.
— Steven R. Shaw (@Shawpsych) April 30, 2016
One of the interesting comments coming out on the shadow CV’s is that these online examples are “too short,” that they are not complete enough in listing all of the failures an average academic encounters. Some people are concerned that by showcasing short shadow CV’s, this worsens the perception an individual may have about his/her own successes/failures, especially if their own “failure” list has more detail. The next tweet emphasizes that failures are part of our careers and just “hidden” behind our achievements:
All my pubs take / took longer than planned. Some were rejected. You don't see the hundreds of failures that hide behind every line on a CV.
— Crystal (@alwaystheself) February 10, 2016
The Washington Post article ends with: “The real tragedy isn’t these failures — it’s when these failures convince people to stop trying.” in Johannes Haushofer’s CV of Failures, he ends with this statement:
Is this an exercise faculty should engage in? Is this an activity we should have our students do to think about their own journeys to becoming Earth science majors and scientists? Only The Shadow knows…