The idea of the shadow CV
I was been inspired to write this blog post Devoney Looser’s article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, in which she asks: What would my vita look like if it recorded not just the successes of my professional life, but also the many, many rejections? After doing some digging I realised this wasn’t the first instance – I found one going back to 2012 by Jeremy Fox, another by Bradley Voytek from 2013 and a piece by Jacqueline Gill from the same year in which she mooted the idea (but refrained from sharing the dirt, yet). There’s also this piece, about the Princeton Professor @JHausfoher who shared his dirty career laundry in April 2016.
I have long been an advocate for more candid and open sharing of the often harsh realities of academic work. Here is my attempt to model the sort of warts and all honesty that I advocate and wish to see in others.
Aren’t I nervous about making this kind of stuff public?
Academia is a highly competitive and often insecure work environment. While I currently have the privilege of an ongoing, full time contract, who knows what the future will bring. It seems reasonable to expect that someday, someone might be looking at my CV and doing some digging around my online scholarly identity, considering whether to appoint me to another job, or perhaps even just as part of a promotion panel.
Devoney wrote about the tendency for us to hide our rejections, arguing: “That’s a shame. It’s important for senior scholars to communicate to those just starting out that even successful professors face considerable rejection.”.
All academics face considerable rejection. I’m not revealing anything that I wouldn’t expect to be broadly true of any colleagues competing with me for whatever job or promotion it might be.
More importantly, if a prospective employer thinks twice about offering me a job because of what they read below, then I probably don’t want to be working for or with that person.
The values I see reflected in presenting a public shadow CV are ones of honesty, openness, and trust. I never claimed to be a perfect academic. Success in academia is not about never failing, never being rejected. It is about not allowing rejections to take hold of you. If I preach this but don’t have the gall to match generalisations with concrete detail, I should just shut up. So here goes.
My career path
My CV has a lovely little paragraph talking about an internationally recognized research profile. It all seems wonderfully coherent, planned, deliberate.
My Shadow CV would say something more like this: Nick started education research doing a MSc and PhD focusing on young people’s learning about geography and sustainability. However there were no jobs in this area when he graduated (see ESRC failure #1 below), so he had to look elsewhere. He got a job looking at doctoral education, and so there was then a period when this was his main focus. When that (4 year contract) job ended, again there were no jobs in that field (or none he could get in a place he was willing to live), so he applied for a postdoc at UTS. To be successful in that, he had to change fields again. In short: Nick’s research interests have gone where the jobs and money are. True, there are some consistent questions and approaches that I’ve been exploring and developing through these broad contexts. But a lot of it was to do with opportunity and constraint.
My employment history
My CV shows how I went from a funded postgrad scholarship to a full time job on a project at Oxford, to my UTS Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, which was converted into an ongoing position at UTS.
My Shadow CV would mention:
ESRC failure #1 – I applied for an ESRC postdoc, but didn’t get it. I found that out 6 weeks before I was due to finish my PhD, and had no job lined up. Panic stations.
- Not getting interviewed, twice: about 3 years into my postdoc job at Oxford, I applied for two jobs advertised at Lecturer/Senior Lecturer level. I felt I had a pretty good publication track record, and relevant teaching experience. I wasn’t even called for interview. I had no idea how small a fish I looked in such a big, competitive pond.
My funded research
My CV shows I have consistently been able to get funding for the research I want to do, starting with an ESRC 1+3 scholarship for my postgrad , international funding from the NSF in the USA, $371,000 from the Australian Research Council for my DECRA project, and some smaller grants more recently.
My Shadow CV would mention:
- ARC failure #6 – Part of interdisciplinary team wanting to find out what fathers can do to help mothers with child feeding. Reviewers seemed to like the idea. No funding.
- NHMRC failure #1 – Part of a team wanting to find collect much-needed data on complex feeding difficulties in infants and young children, and then to improve care. No funding.
- ESRC failure #3 – Part of a team applying for money to look at the education system in Bhutan. Mixed reviews. No funding.
- ESRC failure #2 – I was part of a team that applied for funding for a project on doctoral education. The reviews were pretty blunt. No cash registers ringing anywhere near me this time!
- ARC failures #1-5 – The Australian Research Council funding is highly prestigious, and undoubtedly a tough nut to crack. I heard of success rates around 17%. If that is true, then I’m no better than average I was involved in two Linkage submissions that were not funded, and two Discovery submissions that were not funded. I was also part of a proposal that started as a Linkage, fell over before it got submitted, came back to life as a Discovery, got submitted, and then was not funded.
- Spencer Foundation – Particularly galling because I’d roped in some key international people to join in, and they put some time in… I feel it all falls on my shoulders. Interestingly, both the key people stuck by me and are now involved in my DECRA.
- ANROWS – yup you guessed: another detailed proposal that took months to put together that resulted in $0.
- Office of Learning & Teaching – didn’t get through to second round.
- Norwegian Research Council – a project on innovation, but they didn’t think it was innovative enough.
- STINT – application for funding to support research collaboration on simulation. $0.
Publishing rejections and other shadowy truths
My CV proudly shows off a number of book, journal article, and book chapter publications, alongside complimentary citation metrics.
My shadow CV would acknowledge that I still get plenty of papers rejected (one only weeks ago, which I did blog about). Off the top of my head I can say I’ve been (sometimes quite rightly!) rejected by British Educational Research Journal, Oxford Review of Education, Journal of Advanced Nursing, Qualitative Research, Vocations and Learning, Advances in Health Sciences Education, Journal of Curriculum Studies, Studies in Higher Education, Australian Journal of Primary Health. (Some of these have also subsequently accepted papers I’ve been involved with, too, proving a rejection doesn’t mean you’re marked for life as useless).
My book proposals didn’t all sail through at the first attempt either. I would hope that my rejections these days tend to be for ‘good’ reasons (foibles of peer review, fact that I’m presenting complex, sometimes challenging arguments) rather than ‘bad’ reasons (failure to do my homework, Early Onset Satisfaction etc.). My shadow CV would also point to the many papers that haven’t been cited by many people, including those that have only been cited by me. My published work is clearly not of uniform or universal appeal or value in the eyes of others.
I could add sections about awards (Shadow CV mentioning those applied or nominated for that I didn’t do so well in), about reviewing (the times I’ve said no, I’m too busy; the reviews where I have been harsher than was warranted), etc. etc.
Well, I doubt this post has achieved much except echoing Devoney’s brilliant piece. I’m just trying to say “Yes, she’s totally right! We need to do more of this kind of thing!”.