by Sean La
Just this past week, I was accepted to graduate school. Now, I know what you’re thinking: this must be another one of those arrogant blog posts about “FIVE EASY WAYS YOU TOO CAN BE JUST AS AMAZINGLY SUCCESSFUL AS ME”. I assure you, this is not one of those articles— they annoy me just as much as they do to you, and I doubt anyone has ever became successful because of them.
The reason why I’m writing this article is not to flaunt my successes; quite the opposite. I’m here to tell you about my failures. After being given the privilege to perform research for another two years, I took some time to reflect upon my undergraduate academic career. And quite frankly, I feel it was underwhelming. For example, for every successful research project of mine, I have at least three or four failed projects behind it. And that’s the reality of research — everyone, and I mean everyone, is going to fail way more often than they’re going to succeed.
Of course, academics hardly ever talk about failure. Academia is a rat race (and contain many rat races), and it can be easy for aspiring scientists to feel inferior among the deluge of academic websites and LinkedIn profiles and Facebook posts and CVs, touting the many prestigious graduate school acceptances and journal articles and conference presentations and awards of other students. As it currently stands, this form of peacocking is a necessary evil for a career in academia. But it is still an evil, and I feel it’s important for all of us to remember that failure is part of the process.
So along with my CV of accomplishments, here is my CV of my failures, listed chronologically since high school and almost surely incomplete since I’m writing this from memory. This has been inspired by the CV of failures of academics like Johannes Haushofer. I hope this serves as a helpful reminder for my peers that for the vast majority of us, it ain’t all sunshine and rainbows, all the time.
- (March 2013) Received a participation award at the Sanofi Biogenius Competition for my research project at the Biomedical Research Centre at UBC. I honestly would have preferred that they hadn’t given me anything at all. Like what am I, a twelve year old at a softball tournament?
- (November 2013) Received a predicted score of 32 out of 45 for my IB Diploma in high school, which fell short of the 34 points necessary to get a scholarship from SFU. To give some perspective, I self-predicted 38 points.
- (February 2014) Rejected from the Bachelor of International Economicsprogram at UBC.
- (December 2014) Didn’t receive the grade I wanted in ECON 103 at SFU that I wanted. Note that at the time, I wanted to go to graduate school in economics, but I gave up on that dream shortly after getting that lackluster grade in microeconomics.
- (October 2015) Withdrew from MATH 480W at SFU, leaving a W designation on my transcript. In retrospect, it was quite silly of me to take a 400 level math class when I was in second year.
- (November 2015) Failed a job interview for a prestigious mathematics research position with a governmental institution.
- (January 2016) Failed to get an NSERC USRA with a machine learning professor at the University of Toronto, whom I had a skype interview with.
- (February 2016) Was contacted by another University of Toronto professor to do research with him over the summer, but then was promptly ghosted.
- (April 2016) Received a mediocre grade in MATH 320, an important class for graduate school in economics. This really turned me away from economics.
- (Summer 2016) Failed experiment after failed experiment in my NSERC USRA at SFU.
- (March 2017) Journal sent back my paper with major revisions which were almost impossible to fix.
- (Summer 2017) Three failed projects during my research term at the National Institutes of Health.
- (Fall 2017) Received the worst grades of my life , which likely will make me noncompetitive for the NSERC CGS-M scholarship.
- (Summer 2018) Two more failed projects during my NSERC USRA at SFU.
- (October 2018) Contacted two professors at the University of Toronto for the MSc in Computer Science program for Fall 2019, and was promptly ghosted. Was also ghosted by another CS professor at the University of Waterloo. Though, she ended up emailing me back just last week actually, two months after the Waterloo CS application deadline. Oh, bother.
Wow, that was quite the list. But hey, I feel that my failures were just as formative for me as my successes, if not more so. These experiences taught me that even if I fail, I’ll be okay. That I’ll still be alive to fight another day.
So the next time you, fellow scientist, have an inconclusive experiment or a crummy test or a rejected application, remember that there are others who have failed way more than you have, like me!