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 found Shadow CVs 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.
What the ‘Main CV’ doesn’t highlight is that I’m white, male, middle class – and all the privilege that comes with that. (It also doesn’t mention that I am gay either).
Okay, I don’t have a whole lot of failures in terms of totally flunking or failing degrees. I guess I could mention that I remember getting a D in my Maths in primary school. Given how the English school system worked when I went through it, I tended to select out what I wasn’t so good at.
I could mention how what are presented as ‘my’ achievements on my CV are also a product of systemic privilege. I went to a private school (wish a music bursary, which is itself a reflection of the fact I had the kind of parents who encouraged and payed for violin lessons).
That private school took me down to Oxford where I met someone from my school studying Geography (the subject I wanted to apply for). It also helped me prepare for my Oxford interviews, drawing on its extensive history of sending students to Oxbridge.
I got an ESRC 1+3 Scholarship for my Masters and PhD. What my CV doesn’t say is how much I think that was down to where my degree came from (Oxford) rather than the idea for my research.
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 could also mention all the non-academic jobs I’ve had (you can read this in more detail in a separate blog Post).
My Shadow CV also mentions:
- 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 1: about 3 years into my postdoc job at Oxford, I applied for a 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.
- Not getting interviewed 2: with the clock ticking on my Postdoc fixed contract, I applied for a second job, again at Lecturer/Senior Lecturer level. No interview.
My CV proudly announces a six-figure sum of research funding I have managed to cajole out of various sources. And it lists some lovely-sounding projects I have done or am doing.
My Shadow CV mentions:
(ones with a * are new since the last 2020 update)
- *Bid to evaluate a service for children with autism – this wasn’t a research proposal, but a submission to a tender process that would have made for an interesting combined evaluation/research project. We got close but didn’t focus enough on the business model side of things.
- *NHMRC MRFF failure #2 – The reviewers here thought we had a great team and an important topic, but we just didn’t wow them enough.
- *ARC failure #7 – I applied for the Special Research Initiative in 2020 for a grant as sole investigator. The reviewers had some encouraging remarks, and I was rated in the top 20% but didn’t get the money (a better version was submitted for a different round later that year, fingers crossed!)
- *Financial Markets for Children failures #1-2 – I’d forgotten these. These were part of a group looking at feeding difficulties, and we didn’t get past the EOI.
- *Translational Research Grants Scheme failures #1-2 – another two applications relating to feeding problems in childhood. Neither got to the advanced stages.
- *Celebrating diversity grants program – We had a great aid called ‘We all bring something to the table’, building on proven experience working on multicultural issues in feeding-related healthcare. No funding.
- Templeton World Charity Foundation – I was invited onto a project looking at Gross National Happiness based values education in Bhutan (I’ve done some related work in the past). We didn’t get through the first round.
- 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 MRFF 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.
My CV proudly shows off a number of book, journal article, and book chapter publications, alongside complimentary citation metrics.
My shadow CV acknowledge that I still get plenty of papers rejected (some of which I blog about).
2021 update Since the list below, I can add the following as recent rejections
- Archives of Disease in Childhood – we wrote a paper outlining an agenda for tube-feeding paediatric care improvement. The response was ‘nice paper but not important enough given how many submissions we get. (This did then find a home elsewhere).
- The Clinical Supervisor – this one stung because I was second author with a PhD student I had supervised, and so I felt a bit responsible. But it was a ‘clean’ reject and we will pivot to another journal.
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,
- Learning, Culture & Social Interaction (twice)
- 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,
- Journal of Child Health Care,
- Higher Education,
- Nurse Education Today.
Some of these have previously or subsequently accepted papers I’ve been involved with, too, proving a rejection doesn’t mean you’re marked for life as useless.
I also mention the folder called ‘Going nowhere’ which is full of papers I started and which have never got to submission.
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.
My CV presents a suite of strong-looking metrics – highlighting my most-cited papers etc. It doesn’t mention that one of my books has sold astonishingly few copies. So few, that I have still to earn enough for the publishers to bother sending me a cheque (which they do if my Royalties get to about 60 Euro – so that will give you a sense of how few copies have been sold!).
My CV mentions Awards I have received. My Shadow CV mentions the following (all things I did enter in for, so could have won if I was that good):
- Not winning any of the awards at the EARLI SIG 14 conference in Geneva 2018
- Not winning the ACGR Award in Graduate Research Leadership (twice)
- Not winning UTS Supervisor of the Year 2019
- Not winning UTS Research Excellence Award 2013.
My CV proudly states how many doctoral students I have successfully supervised. What it doesn’t mention is that there are two whom I co-supervised who never finished, and a Masters by Research student to whom that applies too.
In all these cases, the non-completion was due to tough life circumstances affecting the students, not their academic weakness or failings. But I think these should go on the Shadow CV if only to break some of the silence around attrition in higher degrees by research, and to make the case that sometimes not finishing is nothing to be ashamed of – either for the student or their supervisor.
My CV says student feedback is available on request, and anyone asking for it will receive a lovely PDF showing (true) positive evaluations and high scores.
I might leave out (or hope the reader misses) some comments that really cut the other way. They still hurt! One student ticked ‘strongly disagree’ for every item in evaluating a class I taught (where that means ‘super bad’). So I clearly got something wrong there, for example.
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!”.
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. 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.