In some ways, an academic career involves constant failure, with disappointing or useless results, rejected papers, unsuccessful grant applications and the like all very common. Every successful scientist seems to have a whole range of rejections they can point to, especially when the ratio of PhD graduates to permanent jobs is so high and grant success rates on the order of 15%.
Being successful is a lot about being the best you can, but a huge proportion remains about luck. So missing out on the grant was a very normal introduction to the world of academia. But it’s hard, emotionally, looking ahead and seeing a future of failure after failure in the pursuit of the occasional success. It requires a certain amount of emotional resilience, and I’m beginning to wonder if I have it.
I was one of those kids who things came too easily to, so my default response to failing at something is to want to avoid it in future. But in order to have the career I want, I need to learn how to embrace the failures and keep on coming.
So how to handle it?
Luckily, I’ve spent this week at the AMOS conference, one of my favourite times of year, with compliments on my talk and research helping to remind me that yes, I am good at what I do, and that at least Australian scientists value me even if Europe doesn’t. Someone once suggested keeping a record of interactions like that to help get you through the sad times, and it might not be a bad idea.
But the main way to deal with failure is to just keep trying and putting yourself out there, so you can finally get the successes that make it all worthwhile. And maybe grow a thicker skin in the process. So I had a job interview tonight, and hopefully they liked me. Otherwise, I just have to remind myself how lucky I am to even have got this far, and appreciate what I have achieved even if I can’t achieve everything I want to.
If anyone has any recommendations on how to handle failure, I’d love to hear them.