CV of failures

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, all academics, even those with highly established profiles, get 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 failures 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. I know because both my internal promotion applications were unsuccessful the first time around. I have received dozens and dozens of rejections, with journals sometimes even after four revise and resubmits. 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! 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 [fairly parochial] journal ranking used at my university, so I went out and collected several other international journal rankings where IB journals were highly ranked, leading to the Journal Quality List (2000). It is now in its 64th edition, is downloaded by tens of thousands of academics every year, and has even been cited hundreds of times in academic publications.
  • The rejection of my promotion application to full professor at the University of Melbourne led to the creation of Publish or Perish. I used it to evidence that, even though they weren't all published in the top American journals, my academic publications had a lot of citations. Fast forward 13 years and the free software is used by nearly a million academics, research students, librarians, industry researchers, government officials and funding agencies for a huge variety of purposes. 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.

Related blogposts