Thursday, October 23, 2014

Graduate Student "Failure"

A recent meeting with a faculty member on my dissertation committee included this phrase, “My CV is slim…and I’ve failed a lot.” I walked away from this conversation encouraged, which speaks to the character of this particular professor, but more so I realized that failure in graduate school is not an option, it is an imperative. I am a surviving PhD student. Unlike several of my peers I am married, with a child on the way. My life does not revolve around the academia (but some days it feels like it does) and despite many successes in graduate school I have achieved inordinate failures and to that I say, thank goodness. Among my failures: multiple initiatives including several community outreach seminars and workshops and an abnormally long “in progress” section in my vita. However, accompanying each failure is a long list of lessons learned:

1) Failing Initiatives - Graduate school is a wonderful time to engage in extracurricular activities. My life primarily revolves around research and teaching but, thankfully, I have had faculty members reach out and ask me to be part of committees and initiatives suited to my area of expertise, specifically instructional communication. As an instructional communication scholar I study communication in education and as such I actively participate in research related to communication instruction, consultation, and training. Solely focusing on research and teaching would have meant that I missed out on watching faculty members and administrators much wiser and more experienced, handle backlash, red-tape, budget concerns, and failed outreach. As such, I am more suited to eventually enter a position as an administrator. As graduate students we are encouraged to stay true to the two pillars, research and teaching, and we should but we must also engage in outreach to our university and the surrounding community. When we step beyond the academia we will fail, repeatedly, but we must still engage. If you participate in initiatives, outside grant opportunities, seminars and workshops creatively include those activities on your CV.

2) Failing Progress – As of one week ago my Scholarly Productivity section of my CV was borderline nonexistent. My committee member suggested an “In Progress” section, as she recognized that I was involved in multiple research projects, conference submissions, grants and manuscripts that were dangling over the cliff of completion. To a certain extent the time frame for most of these projects is known (i.e. conference submissions) but others are more open-ended. Including a section in my vita that highlights active research including IRB submissions, data collection, manuscript revision, etc. helps future employers know that I am active in my discipline. When the In Progress topic was broached I was initially shocked. My response, “I can do that?!” I have a feeling that I am not alone. If you are involved in multiple projects dangling between initiation and completion begin an In Progress section. This will also help you identify current projects and potentially craft an order of importance “To-Do” List. I assumed that projects in progress meant failure until completion. This is unfounded and dangerous. Graduate students can show their involvement in ways beyond completed research projects. Journal rejections, conference presentation refusals, and additional scholarly missteps have reminded me that failure comes with the territory. Press on, make changes made by reviewers, and resubmit. 

I wrote this in April 2014 and found it to be an applicable reminder as a PhD student on the active job market.