Curricula vitae (CVs) are inherently braggy documents. Instead of just listing where you went to school and where you've worked, like a normal résumé, they list all the honors and awards you've received, all the papers and books you've published, all the people you've mentored or supervised, all the professional associations to which you belong, all your technical skills, etc. For most professors, and even some grad students, they go on for pages and pages.
Which is why it's refreshing that Princeton assistant professor Johannes Haushofer has decided to publish a "CV of his failures":
Haushofer is a pretty accomplished guy who's done a lot of interesting research on the psychological impact of poverty. His evaluation of GiveDirectly — a charity that gives cash directly to people in Kenya and Uganda, no strings attached — with Jeremy Shapiro has been particularly influential, and is what I mainly know him for (it's good, you should read it!).
But like anyone else, he's had some setbacks. He didn't get an assistant professorship at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, or ones at UC-Berkeley and MIT. He got shut out of Harvard's prestigious Society of Fellows. He didn't make it into the Stockholm School of Economics' PhD program. And, most damningly, he notes, "This darn CV of Failures has received way more attention than my entire body of academic work." It's fair — at this point the Washington Post, CNBC, Glamour, and other outlets have already pointed to it. (I'll add my lateness to this story to my own CV of failures.)
The idea of a CV of failures isn't his. He credits it to Melanie Stefan, a biomedical researcher at the University of Edinburgh, and links to four other examples. And similar ideas have popped up in other contexts.
I went to a pretty competitive public high school where college admissions were a key battlefield for status-jockeying, and to cope with it, the seniors always established a "Wall of Shame" where everyone could post their rejection letters. In the wrong context it would've come across as mean, but it was actually really cathartic.
Just about everyone got rejected from somewhere, and when you got a rejection that hurt, it helped to see that all your friends were in the same boat.
In the spirit of Haushofer's CV, I suppose I should disclose that I got rejected from Princeton and Swarthmore for undergrad; applied unsuccessfully for internships with Ted Kennedy's Senate office and Slate; didn't even get a callback for a train conductor position at Norfolk Southern Railway my senior year of college; and got rejected from Oxford's BPhil program in philosophy that year, too.
The train one still hurts the most.