The need to normalize failure

Two Schmidt Science Fellows describe their academic and career failures as they pursued their PhDs. Suggestions are included for how advisors, departments, and institutions can support students to open up about failure, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds.

Working in research involves a large number of failures. Despite a recent article suggesting that researchers experience about four failures for every win1, failure remains taboo in academia. By avoiding these discussions, we can mistakenly think others don’t go through setbacks and that there is some innate issue with our own abilities. This may contribute to around 70% of researchers feeling like ‘imposters’2, a feeling that is heightened for underrepresented students who may lack relatable career stories, and has been highlighted as one cause of the ‘leaky pipeline’ of minority groups in academia3. Discussing failures, especially those from researchers from underrepresented backgrounds, may help to empower the next generation of scientists.

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