Late starter...

A number of successful academics have posted online a so-called "CV of Failures" - the general idea being to show that a successful career in the academic world often comes with a few failures along the way.


It's also coming up to that time of year that universities in the Southern Hemisphere take on a number of undergraduate students to take part in research projects, as well as well known programs for students interested in engaging with further study, like the National Youth Science Forum. What's more, there's now opportunities for high achieving high school students to take on undergraduate degrees with significant research components.


These are two seemingly disjoint things, but for me they are connected. My own personal CV of failures is littered with "missed opportunities" as a high school student and undergraduate student, where my applications for these extension programs were rejected until I was right at the end of my undergraduate career.


These programs are definitely wonderful opportunities to get some early research experience and expand your CV, and in no way am I knocking them. What I do want to reassure anyone out there, who - like 16 to 21 year old me - was sure they wanted to pursue science research as a career but may have missed out on these programs, is that if you want to pursue a career in science, odds on are that you still can. These programs are not the be all and end all of starting up a fulfilling research career. In fact, I can say in hindsight there's a lot to be said for taking the summer off, relaxing and learning to take a proper holiday from work.


I genuinely believe that successful research careers are build from a solid elementary background in the relevant subject (e.g. for astronomy, elementary physics taught in all undergraduate degrees, no extension courses necessary), a very large dose of luck and often sheer bloody-mindedness. There is no prerequisite that you be labelled as "gifted and talented" early in the piece to have a successful research career. 


So for the school leavers with a passion for science who might feel they have missed out: here's my current CV, and here's a select few things off my "CV of failures" (a more detailed version of which I may consider sharing in the future) which made me once worry I wouldn't have a future in research:

  • Age 16: Application for Massey University "NanoCamp"rejected
  • Age 18: Application for National Youth Science Forum rejected
  • Age 18: Applications to be involved in school student leadership rejected
  • Age 19 - 21: Applications for ~15 summer scholarship projects at Auckland University rejected
  • Age 20: Application for job tutoring math rejected as my GPA wasn't high enough

I could mention many more things.


And finally: my advice for dealing with academic rejection? Accept the rejection with grace, move on to the next opportunity, and keep your head up. You never know what's just around the corner!