CV of failure

In my work as an academic mentor, I often meet junior academics who have lost all confidence in their research abilities because the very first paper they submitted to a journal was rejected after review. Or even worse, it might have been desk-rejected (see also Why does my paper get a desk-reject time and again?). Many junior academics seem to think they are the only ones who get rejections. However, every academic, even those with highly established profiles, gets rejections on a very regular basis. I still get several journal rejections every year. Even the editors of highly prestigious journals get rejections themselves!

A while ago, this CV of failure went viral. I can fully agree with the sentiments expressed in this exerpt:

"Most of what I try fails, but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible. I have noticed that this sometimes gives others the impression that most things work out for me. As a result, they are more likely to attribute their own failures to themselves, rather than the fact that the world is stochastic, applications are crapshoots, and selection committees and referees have bad days. This CV of Failures is an attempt to balance the record and provide some perspective."

I am not saying rejection is easy to cope with. We all find it hard. Therefore, resilience is the key most important characteristic for academics (see also Be proactive, resilient & realistic!). This is also the reason why the fourth P of the Four P's of getting published is repeated three times: persist, persist, persist! And sometimes you can even pro-actively turn a failure around into something positive. Here are two personal examples:

  • My early career stalled because International Business journals weren't recognised in the journal ranking used at my university, so I went out and collected other journal rankings where they were highly ranked, leading to the Journal Quality List (2000). It is now in its 63rd edition and has even been cited hundreds of times in academic publications.
  • The rejection of my promotion application to full professor in Melbourne led to the creation of Publish or Perish to establish that my work had a lot of impact. After 12 years, the programme is now used by nearly a million academics. Although the development, maintenance and support for it continues to take up a huge amount of my time, it has also given me great name recognition, much more than I would ever have been able to achieve with my own research. It also led to an entirely new research program Quality and Impact of Academic Research, in which I have done some of my most impactful work.

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