Princeton Academic Publishes ‘CV of Failures’

Holly Smith·31 May 2016·4 min read
Princeton Academic Publishes ‘CV of Failures’

Johannes Haushofer, professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton university, has well established himself in the formidable world of academia. He published his CV online this week, but it’s not the impressive collection of accolades and accomplishments that you’d probably expect. In fact, it’s the opposite.

It’s called a ‘CV of Failures’, and you can read it here.  The usual academic achievements, previous experience and personal skills are replaced with sections such as ‘Degree programs I did not get into’, ‘Awards and Scholarships I did not get’, and ‘Paper Rejections from Academic Journals’. Haushofer even admits that these lists may be incomplete, as he may have forgotten some of the things he’s failed at in the past.

It’s not difficult to imagine reading Haushofer’s real CV – degrees from the University of Oxford, Harvard University and the University of Zurich topped off with a postdoctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – and feeling pretty inadequate. The professor says, in the opening paragraphs of the ‘CV of failures’, that he wanted to “provide some perspective” on how he got to the position he’s in today. He’s aware of the dangers of comparing yourself to others in your field, especially as a typical CV usually hides half the story: “failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible”.



The CV quickly gained attention online for obvious reasons. One twitter user expressed the strange sense of comfort that it has given to people who’ve faced setbacks in their career searches: “We all fail sometimes, and you must be brave to admit it”. After seeing the astounding praise the CV received, the professor added a meta-failure section, musing on the fact that “[t]his darn CV of Failures has received way more attention than my entire body of academic work”.

However, not everyone was so quick to laud the failure CV. Sonia Sodha, in her article for The Guardian, argues that the CV appeals to the idea society tries to sell to young people that hard work will always pay off, while ignoring the roles that privilege and luck may have played in Haushofer’s overall success story. She also comments that in the current UK job market, “for too many young people, those jobs simply don’t yet exist when they reach the end of their education. It’s hard to see what good a CV failure will do them.”

Though this may be true, I think there are benefits of taking this realistic, candid approach to success, whether it be in our professional or personal lives. Though students probably won’t want to spend too long dwelling on what their own ‘CV of failures’ may entail  – percentage of seminars slept through due to hangovers, record of consecutive days spent avoiding washing up, number of lectures attended in yesterday’s makeup – the message behind Haushofer’s document is oddly comforting. If he can overcome all of these rejections and setbacks and end up working at one of the world’s best universities, there’s hope for all of us.


By Alice Hiley