12 May 2016

I've failed over and over and over again in my life...

Submitted by Chip Nataro, Lafayette College

I've missed over 9,000 shots in my career.
I've lost almost 300 games.
26 times I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed.
I've failed over and over and over again in my life.
And that is why I succeed.

Micheal Jordan (Nike Culture: The Sign of the Swoosh (1989), Goldman, R; Papson, S., 49)

Adam Johnson recently posted an interesting link on Facebook to an article about failure. The quick summary is that a professor at Princeton posted a CV of his failures just to show that he wasn't always successful in everything he did. This hit at that perfect time of the year when seniors are in that happy place of enjoying their last few moments as an undergraduate while also being horrified that they are about to be 'grown ups'. Add into that mix the students heading off to summer jobs, internships, REUs, etc and there are a lot of people worried about failing. I think our students generally see us as being successful, and they probably think that we are just brilliant and this all came easy to us. If only they knew the truth. There have been plenty of failures along the way. I asked my fellow LC members to provide me with a list of professional 'failures'. Here is a sample of what we have encountered along the way.

Rejected Fellowships/Post-docs
NSF Graduate Research Fellowship: 4
Fellowship: 1
Post-doc applications rejected: >10

Job Hunt
Total applications submitted: ~200
Interviews without offers: ~20
Promotion not awarded: 3

Rejected Grant Proposals
NSF: 11 (including twice on our current TUES grant)
Dreyfus: 8
Research Corp: 7
NIH: 4
PRF: 3

Rejected Papers: 12

Failing at something is inevitible. That doesn't make it any more pleasant. But if you don't try you'll never succeed. NSF is never going to radomly call you and say "We have $250,000 just sitting around and we decided to give it to you because you are just a wonderful person." We have to put in many, many hours writing that proposal before we come to that moment when it is submitted and out of our hands. Sure, the chances of being funded are not great, but they are infinitely greater than they would be if we did not submit at all. It is important for students to learn that we have not only failed, but that we continue to fail throughout our careers. But without those failures, we would never have our successes. 

“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”
― Thomas A. Edison


For some other interesting thoughts on failure, you might consider the following


Love it! Have been trying to teach both undergraduate and graduate students who are new to research about the value of failing--might use that Edison quote.