Faculty Who Failed Series

Graduate school is a time for students to push themselves, try new things, and explore. It’s also a time when students are likely to experience what feels like failure. These small or large challenges along the way to your degree are to be expected, and most faculty members experienced such stumbles themselves in graduate school.

To share stories of successful people who have overcome the setbacks that come with pursuing a graduate degree, we’re interviewing faculty members about how they “failed” in their academic careers. The Faculty Who Failed series highlights how resilience can carry you through the tough times in your degree program and come out of the experience stronger and better prepared for future challenges.

David Bindel

April 15, 2024

David Bindel in graduate school

Professor David Bindel failed the preliminary exam for his computer science Ph.D. program and considered leaving his program. Through the experience, he learned that there are multiple types of knowing, that feedback on a performance might be about that specific performance rather than overall ability, and that as an instructor, it is important to not only give feedback to students, but make sure they fully understand it.

Read about Bindel.

Kelly Liu

February 19, 2024

Kelly LiuProfessor Kelly Liu had a difficult time getting her experiments started for her thesis research and doubted her ability to do science. Through the experience, she learned that failed experiments teach useful lessons as well as the importance of resilience, critical thinking, and being resourceful.

Read about Liu.

Corrie Moreau

February 5, 2024

Corrie Moreau in doctoral regalia holding her diploma

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Senior Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Director and Head Curator of the Cornell University Insect Collection; and Martha N. and John C. Moser Professor in the Department of Entomology and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Corrie Moreau didn’t bring her full self to her graduate program from the beginning. Through the experience, she learned that authenticity creates stronger feelings of connection and acceptance.

Read about Moreau.

Bruce Lewenstein

January 18, 2024

Bruce Lewenstein

Professor and University Ombuds Bruce Lewenstein questioned his career path throughout his Ph.D. program. Through the experience, he learned what having privilege means and that knowing why you’re in graduate school is essential to degree completion.

Read about Lewenstein.

Benjamin Z. Houlton

November 27, 2023

Ben Houlton collecting fog water nitrogen isotopes

Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Professor of Global Development and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Benjamin Z. Houlton experienced a coding difficulty that lasted two months. Through the experience, he learned the importance of asking for help.

Read about Houlton.

Suzanne Shu

November 6, 2023

Suzanne Shu with her family

S.C. Johnson College of Business Dean of Faculty and Research and John S. Dyson Professor of Marketing Suzanne Shu failed her first dissertation defense. Through the experience, she learned that there is a distinction between big picture research questions and narrower sets of studies.

Read about Shu.

Avery August

October 23, 2023

Avery AugustDeputy Provost and Professor of Immunology Avery August changed advisors and labs after three years in graduate school. Through the experience, he learned that time is never wasted as there is always something that can be learned.

Read about August.

Lisa H. Nishii

October 9, 2023

Lisa NishiiVice Provost for Undergraduate Education Lisa Nishii’s first conference presentation didn’t go according to plan. Through the experience, she learned to be a more effective and confident presenter.

Read about Nishii.

Kathryn J. Boor

August 28, 2023

Dean Kathryn J. Boor during her senior year at Cornell

Dean of the Graduate School and Vice Provost for Graduate Education Kathryn J. Boor withdrew from graduate school. Through the experience, she discovered passion in her career and gained insight into and empathy for others who struggle.

Read about Boor.

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