My Shadow CV

The idea of the shadow CV

I have 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).

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 mimic Devoney’s wonderful example, and hopefully 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?

Let’s face it, 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.”.

While I don’t claim to be a senior scholar, I do believe that all academics face considerable rejection. Therefore in what follows 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. My Shadow CV actually isn’t that shadowy: it shows me to be resilient and determined. I never claimed to be a perfect academic. Success in academia is not about never failing, never being rejected. It is about bouncing back. 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 that spans work in schools, universities, health services, and workplaces. 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 research, including international funding from the NSF in the USA, and concluding with a whopping $371,000 from the Australian Research Council for my current DECRA project.

My Shadow CV would mention:

  • 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 the average person. 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. Yes I got a DECRA, but that was the 6th knock on the door (and yes, I do think I’ve learned a lot on the way… the irrational part of me thinks this will mean I get the next ‘hit’ in fewer than 6 tries, but someone should probably tell me I’m dreaming…)
  • Spencer Foundation – another research application that was not funded. All the more 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. Though 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.

Publishing rejections and other shadowy truths

My CV states how I’ve published 28 refereed journal articles, 4 scholarly books, an edited volume, and 14 chapters in books. It boasts of my h-index (15 at the time of writing, Nov 2015), and high citations.

My shadow CV would acknowledge that I still get plenty of papers rejected (one only weeks ago, which I did blog about). 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.

In conclusion

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!”.

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8 thoughts on “My Shadow CV

  1. Julie Mooney-Somers

    Thanks for this Nick. Two comments:

    I would never record paper rejections so why do I include funding applications rejected? I guess a CV fulfils multiple tasks: here is what I have been doing with my time (look I wrote a grant app instead of a paper that year), here is how successful I am…

    I was talking with colleagues recently about how a successful academic is the one who manages to craft a coherent career narrative out of the messiness that is contemporary academia. We need to own up to the mess; contemporary academics are driven by the need to survive financially as well as as driven by passion for an area. That means we don’t always maintain a ‘home discipline’, publish consistently in an area (or in a set of journals), develop a coherent program of research, etc. The jobbing academic/researcher takes the opportunities that arise – selectively if we can, while doing our best to create opportunities that are relevant (passion driven).

    Reply
  2. Dr Karen Emma Martin

    Brilliant thanks for this post Nick. I didn’t get the DECRA with which you so kindly assisted (reminding … you send your project description!), indeed despite receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback about project (and me as a candidate) from the ARC reviewers, I wasn’t really even in the running (top 25-50! – which isn’t really the top is it??- it is average!). I have consoled myself -I was technically only about 2.5 yrs fte post doc and my project was a first attempt. I have some teaching to get me through next year so not facing the dole or homelessness. Whether or not I continue with the fellowship route I don’t know but it is great to know what is really going on behind the open CV!
    Perhaps you could write a blog about the problem with external reviews on grant app, I am a research committee member and projects which we recommend for funding are not always the ones with the most positive reviews!
    Best regards
    Karen

    Reply
    1. nickhopwood Post author

      Hi Karen
      Thanks for your candid contribution! I’m sorry you didn’t get the DECRA – welcome to the club of illustrious people who’ve been turned down funding despite having good ideas and being awesome scholars!

      Reply
  3. Tracey-Ann Palmer

    Thank you Nick. Being at the icky in-between stage after finishing my doctorate and finding something to do with it, your tale of the real world gives me perspective. I will try a few things and see what works – have a go at what I’m offered and not be too fussy. Again, thanks.

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Shadows and CVs | DrSaetnan's musings

  5. Pingback: Write a Grad Student CV of Failures | Celebrate Risk Taking – GRAD | LOGIC

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