Treating Failure Like a Scientist

Celebrating failure seems to go against our nature. Labelling ourselves as failures at particular aspect in our life can be self-disparaging, stopping us from reaching more successful goals in life. In schools, it is easy for pupils to see themselves as failures, particularly as children compare themselves to achievements by peers, rather than celebrating their own talents and triumphs.

But accepting failures more positively is crucial in becoming successful – a lesson well illustrated by how scientists work, especially when they conduct experiments. Scientists view failures within experiments as just another data point, learning from one experiment; changing an element; then try again until a conclusion has been established.

We tend not to treat life in this way, as James Clay’s blog post reminds us:

“failure feels like an indication of who we are as a person.

Failing a test means you’re not smart enough. Failing to get fit means you’re undesirable. Failing in business means you don’t have what it takes. Failing at art means you’re not creative. And so on.

But for the scientist, a negative result is not an indication that they are a bad scientist. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Proving a hypothesis wrong is often just as useful as proving it right because you learned something along the way.”

Demonstrating this to ourselves, and to our students, can be difficult to explain, but the illustration by Douglas Karr shows the contrast in how most people think they can be successful, compared to the reality of success….it can be littered with a path of failures. It’s how positively we respond and adjust to these obstacles that are the key factors on the journey of life.


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About UKEdChat Editorial 3188 Articles
The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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