How I Fail: Noeska Smit (PhD’16, Computer Science)

For this post of How I Fail I’m interviewing Noeska Smit, an associate professor at the University of Bergen. She blogs (and her blog has motivated me to start my own!) and you can also find her on Twitter.

1. Thanks for joining the How I Fail series! Please introduce yourself. What are you doing now, what did you before to get here?

After working as a radiographer for three years, I studied Computer Science (Media and Knowledge Engineering track) at the TU Delft. From April 2012 I worked as a PhD candidate in the field of medical visualization at the TU Delft in collaboration with the Anatomy and Embryology department at the LUMC in Leiden. I am currently employed as an associate professor at the University of Bergen, Norway. I am a contributor at medvis.org, the blog on all things medical visualization and also have my own blog.

2. Do you keep track of your failures (rejected papers, grants, job applications…)? Why/why not?

I do not, at least not explicitly. I do keep track of all things happening throughout the day through a virtual lab journal in Evernote. I start every day by writing down three tasks I want to accomplish for the day. Then throughout the day I take short notes of what I am doing. I try not to focus on failures explicitly, as I think this would be demotivating for me personally. I prefer to keep track of both successes and failures in the same way, through my lab journal.

3. What do you think about sharing failures online? Are there disadvantages for researchers who do it?

I have to say this concept of a CV of Failures is not for me. It reminds me of dwelling on the negative. When something gets rejected, I prefer to just give myself a day or two to be cranky about it, learn what I can from it, and then move on.

4. What do you do when you receive a rejection? Do you have some process/ritual of dealing with failure? Has this process changed throughout your career?

See above. This process has not changed throughout my career, though I do get far less emotional about it now. I took my first paper rejection too personally, but by now I just process them in a more neutral way. Rejections are not targeted at me personally, or even at my work, but just evaluate and try to offer suggestions to improve one particular piece of output, which is not a big thing in the grand scheme of things.

5. What about when you receive good news? Who do you share the news with, do you have some rewards for yourself?

Yea, I definitely believe it is important to celebrate success to maintain motivation. I share it typically with family, co-workers, and also friends that are in same field.

6. If you would have a CV of failures, do you think it would show more/same/less failures than other people in your field? What factors (strengths/weaknesses, circumstances of your job, prestige of lab/university…) do you think influence this?

I don’t know, I really don’t think about my work in terms of failures at all. Not because I’m perfect, but even if things get rejected, this is not a failure to me, rather an opportunity to learn and improve for the next attempt. The only failure to me would be not trying, which is harder to quantify.

 

7. Can you share some examples of failures which hurt the most, and why that was?

I have a paper which was rejected three times, and ended up as a short paper. Later I got comments on how novel, and interesting the work was, and then I’m like, why were you not reviewing this? After a certain amount of rejections on the same piece of work, frustration simply sets in. Especially when the reviewers offer conflicting suggestions in every rejection round.

8. Can you think of something you accomplished that felt like a success, but you wouldn’t normally add to a CV?

I try to frame work-related activities so that they do fit on a CV. For instance, I think that academic blogging can be an appropriate CV item. I can’t really think of any successes that would not fit, maybe having achieved perfect work-life balance 🙂?

9. Is there something we can all do to improve how failure affects others in academia?

As supervisors, talk to (especially new) PhDs and explain that rejection is something that can be expected and not the end of the world, nor a personal attack. Also, talk about rejections to peers and friends to vent and normalize them. As reviewers, try to find the good in every paper, and criticize points of improvement in a constructive and helpful way.

10. What is the best piece of advice you could give to your past self?

Spend less time worrying, and more time kicking ass.

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That’s a great piece of advice – something I should definitely keep in mind myself! Thanks again Noeska for joining the series! 

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