‘Degree programs I did not get into’: A Princeton professor’s ‘CV of failures’

“Most of what I try fails.”
“Most of what I try fails.”
Image: AP Photo/Mel Evans,
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“Of all your loves mention only the marriage/of all your children only those who were born” writes Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska in one of her most famous poems, Pisanie życiorysu (“Preparing a Curriculum Vitae“).

Indeed, the fundament of writing a good resume rests on the unspoken rule of omitting anything that didn’t go as planned,  or didn’t become a success. The time you got fired, the projects that got rejected, the million average ideas you had—in just a page or two, there’s little interest in hearing about that.

This does not mean those aren’t important experiences. Understanding this, Johannes Haushofers, a Princeton professor of Psychology and Public Affairs, decided to post, alongside a traditional résumé, a “CV of Failures.”

Haushofers compiled a list of his academic failures, organized under sections: “Degree programs I did not get into;” “Academic positions and fellowships I did not get;” “Awards and scholarships I did not get;” “Paper rejections from academic journals;” and, “Research funding I did not get.”

“Most of what I try fails,” Haushofers writes in the introduction to his resume, “but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible.” People may think they fail because something is wrong with them, he writes, and not that failures and setbacks happen to everyone. “The world is stochastic, applications are crapshoots, and selection committees and referees have bad days,” he writes.

His experience is in academia, but his observations apply everywhere. While failures are often glorified, particularly in the startup world, few people are willing to list theirs.

The world needed this CV so much that it got Haushofers an unprecedented amount of attention. Or, as he writes in the updated version of the CV (which has a sixth section):


2016: This darn CV of Failures has received way more attention than my entire body of academic work.