Success through failure

Growing up, we’re taught that winning is good, and losing is bad. Success is good, and failure is bad. For some students, the words “that’s wrong” or “you failed” are some of the most terrifying to hear. But there are two sides to every story. If you never fail, then how do you learn? If you never lose, then how do you grow? Set backs are a normal part of life, and they’re a normal part of grad school.

There are countless ways that grad students can succeed, but also countless ways to fail. In my past two years as a Master’s student, I’ve failed by:

  • Not getting teaching assistantships I applied for,
  • Not getting funding I applied for,
  • Not getting jobs I applied for,
  • Not having experiments work out as expected,
  • Not having abstracts accepted at conferences.

And I’m sure there are many more, but at the end of the day, I wouldn’t change any of it.

“Failing” at something is really just a character building experience. Sometimes (most times) the failure can be a blessing in disguise. Yes, the outcome isn’t what you initially hoped for at the time, but it may actually be opening up many more doors down the road. Every failure is a learning experience, and if you are able to learn something from the negative outcome, then nothing is actually lost.

I completely understand that failure can be an overwhelming and disheartening experience; however, keep in mind that failing at something is providing you with very important abilities. Your resilience and your perseverance will assist you through the tough time, and you’ll come out stronger on the other side. Your problem-solving skills will help you think outside the box to find more innovative solutions. Your mind will adapt and become more flexible in changing situations. These are all skills and qualities that not many experiences can teach you – except for failure.

If I hadn’t experienced failure during my time as a graduate student, I would have had an entirely different (and less exciting) thesis topic, I wouldn’t be doing the work that I’m currently doing, and I wouldn’t have gained many of the skills that I’ve picked up along this path. My graduate school experience has helped me to grow not only as a researcher, but also as a person.

So my final note to you is: keep a positive mindset, and don’t let your failures push you too far back – leverage them to learn a thing or two and help yourself in the long run!


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