In the Lab, Failure Is Part of the Job Description

January 4, 2019
Author:
Alexander C. Kafka, The Chronicle of Higher Education
In the Lab, Failure Is Part of the Job Description

In the Lab, Failure Is Part of the Job Description

"I decided to flip the script," Van Bavel says. "We’re also going to announce the failures, because they are far more common and they’re also part of the process."

Jay Van Bavel is a highly successful research psychologist at New York University, but he also likes junior colleagues to know about his crummy first year as an assistant professor, when he had 10 papers and three grant proposals rejected, and zero papers published.

Make no mistake, over all, he has kicked scholarly butt. Now an associate professor, he is also affiliated with NYU’s Stern School of Business, has published more than 60 papers, and won prestigious academic awards and a wide range of grants.

But Van Bavel, a first-generation college graduate from a tiny town in Canada, studies the impact of social environment on individuals. Naturally, then, he is attuned to such effects in his own lab. Inspired by a colleague’s suggestion, eight years ago, he and his labmates started regularly celebrating successes. Over snacks, they’d revel over a publication accepted, a dissertation defended, a student award. He eventually realized that might give younger researchers, particularly, a false sense of what life as a researcher is really like. So now at those weekly meetings 10 to 20 grad students, postdocs, and undergrads also share their defeats

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