Broken display glass photo by Simson Petrol (@simson_petrol) on Unsplash

So far in this series we’ve looked at the beginning and the middle of how things get done in academia and beyond. In part one I highlighted Dr. Mackin Roberts’ series of interviews, “How I Plan.” Then we moved on to Dr. Eva Lantsoght’s series “How I Work.” But who wants to read “How I Succeed?”


Instead, we end with a collection of interviews compiled by Dr. Veronika Cheplygina about what happens when things don’t quite go to plan. “How I Fail” is an interview series about just that: the ways in which academics (mostly; post- and alt-ac folks are certainly represented) deal with their failures, be they rejection letters, getting passed over for jobs, or even being turned down for graduate programs.

If this is sounding familiar there’s good reason. The “How I Fail” series began when Dr. Cheplygina published her “CV of Failure” or “Shadow CV,” inspired by a piece written by Devoney Looser right here in the Chronicle and the published “CV of Failures” posted by Princeton professor Johannes Haushofer, which was itself the child of an idea presented in a Nature column by Melanie I. Stefan. Clearly, the notion has quite a history.

As the idea of putting a collection of failures in the public space for all to see seemed off-putting to some, she decided an interview series might be “the low-threshold solution” to that hesitation. Beyond the “Shadow CV,” I asked Veronika how the series—which she deemed “an experiment"—came about and the result so far:


I think How I Fail started with the CV of Failures - I had first shared mine online as a postdoc, when I felt like I was at a really low point emotionally. My fellowships and job applications were getting rejected and I started coming to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t continue in academia. Given the academic job market this wasn’t a surprise for me, but it still hurt. I decided to document the rest of the story on my blog, to have a “true” CV of Failure - not one that ends with being a professor at Princeton.

The series has been really insightful for me. I did end up getting a position I’m very happy with and am doing better. I also realized that leaving academia would not have been a failure! I wish I would have had these conversations a year earlier. I hope the series does the same for other early career researchers.

To tie a nice little bow on our three-part series, the first two invitations for interviews for “How I Fail” were Dr. Mackin Roberts and Dr. Lantsoght. There have been many more since then, which you can find on Veronika’s website. I’m not sure I’m confident enough to put out my own list of failures (of which there are many), but maybe that’s just the motivation I need. In the meantime, you can read more of Veronika’s writing on her site and follow her on Twitter.

What about you? How do you fail and how does it make you feel? Let us and Veronika know in the comments!


[CC-0 image by Unsplash user Simpson Petrol.]