Many of us have phases where we have no idea what we’re doing, or everything feels like it’s going wrong: that we are failing, or even that we are failures. Sometimes such phases feel less like phases than a permanent default. And often we assume – wrongly – that no one else ever feels the same.
This is an initiative intended to help make it OK to think and talk about failure. It grew out of an event held in June 2016 which brought together DPhil students, early-career academics, and researchers at later stages of their careers in academia or beyond, for a frank conversation about academic failure and success. The event made clear how powerful it can be to acknowledge perceived failures, talk about them, reframe them, and learn from them, rather than bottling them up and pretending they never happened.
The resulting resources currently include a series of five audio podcasts and an Overcoming a Sense of Academic Failure workbook (PDF).
The Overcoming a Sense of Academic Failure Workbook
The workbook offers prompts to reflect on your experiences, alter your perspective on them, and take action to continue learning in the future. It also includes CVs of failure from some of the event speakers.
The podcasts explore things in a little more depth, with the help of contributions from some of our speakers plus other people at different career stages. The podcasts are not short (around half an hour each) and will reward focused engagement. We recommend that you take some quiet time to listen, perhaps with a pen and paper to hand.
Download the Overcoming a Sense of Academic Failure workbook (PDF)
Podcast 1: The Feeling of Failure
What does failure feel like, and what happens when you sit with it?https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/390764292&color=%231e4f86&auto_play=false&hide_related=true&show_comments=false&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=false
Podcast 2: Failure and other people
Other people (or our idea of them) can induce feelings of failure and alleviate or transform them.
Podcast 3: Failure and the farewell to academia
Why does the idea of leaving academia so often feel like professional failure?
Podcast 4: What to do about it all: Personal attitudes
How to change your own attitudes to failure and success, and how failure relates to regret.
Podcast 5: What to do about it all: Personal actions
How to take action to change the role failure plays in your life.
- Susan Blackmore: psychologist, lecturer, and writer researching consciousness, memes, and anomalous experiences; Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth
- Julia Bray: A.S. AlBabtain Laudian Professorial Fellow in Arabic, Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford; Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford
- Rachel Bray: former Careers Adviser for Postgraduate Research Students and Research Staff, Careers Service, University of Oxford; Research Associate, Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford
- Barbara Gabrys: Academic Visitor, Department of Materials, University of Oxford
- Adam Hart-Davis: photographer, writer, and broadcaster
- Jaz Hill-Valler: DPhil student, Department of Physics, University of Oxford
- Leanne Hodson: Associate Professor of Diabetes and Metabolism, Radcliffe Department of Medicine, University of Oxford
- Dan Holloway: Head of Administration and Finance, Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics, University of Oxford; founder of Mycelium
- Ritchie Robertson: Taylor Professor of the German Language and Literature, Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford; Fellow of The Queen’s College, Oxford.
- Chris Wickham: Chichele Professor of Medieval History (emeritus); Emeritus Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford
We thank all our contributors for talking so openly about their experiences and what they have learned from them.
Audio files notice
Due to limited staff capacity, the podcasts are not yet available in any other format than the audio recordings. If you cannot access the audio recordings, you can book an advice appointment with a careers adviser to discuss your individual needs.