May 4, 2016

There’s the CV, then there’s the shadow CV (a document of failures)

Posted by Laura Guertin

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:

Chances are, we will be seeing more of these documents appearing on the internet…

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?

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:

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:

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 9.05.18 PMIs 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…