Getting to Know Failure

A while ago I came across Prof. Haushofer of Princeton University and his CV of Failures.  It was interesting, and kind of funny if you look at the last entry.  It also reminded me that professors are usually experts in failure, and not because we fail some of the students in our courses (although that does happen).

One of our Engineering Counselors once mentioned in a meeting that many students (especially new students) regard professors with a certain amount of awe and believe that we can do almost anything successfully.  But sadly no, most of us could probably also write a similar long list of “failures”.  These lists would include things such as jobs and promotions we didn’t get, research grants competitions we didn’t win, equipment funding that was denied, awards we didn’t receive, journal manuscripts that were rejected, cool research ideas that didn’t work, research collaborations that fell apart, graduate students we’ve mentored who didn’t excel, teaching innovations that flopped, courses and lectures that didn’t go very well, etc, etc.

Professors are actually so well acquainted with “failure” that we normally don’t even think much about it…it’s just a routine part of the job and life in general.  It’s so routine, we sometimes forget that it’s probably a new experience for many first year university students, when they get a failing grade in an assignment or test, or they don’t get the co-op position they were hoping for.

One can read in various publications about entrepreneurs and business people and their long list of failures before finding something that actually works.  For example, there are a few stories in the University of Waterloo Magazine about some alumni and their experiences with failure.  I guess that the bottom line is that “failure” is a normal part of adult life in pretty much any field.  The trick is to just expect it, embrace it, learn from it, and move on to the next thing.



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