Scientista's Experience with Failure
Updated: Mar 26, 2020
By: Danielle Pinder, Maya Stibbards-Lyle, and Alexa Fiorante
Failure is an integral component ingrained in the world of academia. Three Scientistas share their thoughts on what failure in university means to them:
Danielle Pinder (2nd Year, Life Sciences Major)
Walking into my first exam season at Queen’s, I was your typical Life Sciences frosh. I complained about 8:30AM classes on West Campus, strolled around with lab goggle imprints on my cheeks, and believed that my study habits would result in the same grades I received in high school. I had always done well in high school exams, so these exams couldn’t be much different, right? Needless to say, the 2018 BioCalc exam practically laughed at that assumption. Although I didn’t literally fail, the grade left me crushed and confused. I followed all of the study habits I did in high school, so what went wrong? I began to believe that no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t succeed. After days of moping around, I decided it was time to use this failure as a catalyst for change. It’s understandable to be upset about a bad grade, but dwelling on the situation will only make you feel worse. I began to let my failures unveil any errors in my process that had previously gone unnoticed. It was time to take a hard look at my habits and question them. I learned that I work best on the fourth floor of Stauffer, rather than a bustling coffee shop. I discovered that I work best alone, rather than studying with my floormates in our common room. I realized that I don’t truly need an episode of Friends playing in the background and it was just distracting me. I was honest with myself and began to recognize the holes in my routine. By focusing on the variables that I could actively control, I invited a sense of stability into an uncertain time. On the other hand, I celebrated the factors in my routine that went right. For example, I tended to excel in short answer questions, but fell short in the multiple-choice section. By not letting the small successes go unnoticed, I was able to recognize the areas of my routine that worked well and reinforce them. Instead of beating myself up for the mistakes I made, I was able to use them to orchestrate a game plan for the next assignment or test. In doing so, I was able to take concrete steps towards success in the future instead of focusing on the events of the past.
Maya Stibbards-Lyle (3rd Year, Life Sciences Specialization)
Like many, I’ve generally thrived at Queen’s. I get good grades, am involved in extracurriculars, and have met amazing friends that I will remember forever. For so long, these wonderful experiences have prevented me from seeing or accepting any negative aspects of Queen’s culture. I think many can relate. The school environment is often compared to a “cult”, primarily because students avoid criticising the school that has given them so much. Even so, I think it’s important to acknowledge that failing in this type of environment feels especially terrible. Failure is never easy, but when surrounded by peers that seem so perfect, failure at Queen’s can feel like the end of the world. I have never experienced another student actively shaming me for failure, but either way, I will always compare myself to the bar set by my peers. It’s taken me nearly three years at this school to begin accepting small failures and attempting to use them to my benefit. Difficult classes, midterms, and interviews all present ample opportunity to fail, but also to learn. Unfortunately, there are also failures of the uncontrolled type; you were sick during exam season and found it difficult to study, you’re too busy with other time commitments to prepare for a midterm, or your exam schedule is so busy that you find yourself unable to study for all of them. Maybe it’s none of these, and yet you just can’t seem to keep your mental health from affecting your academic performance. Failures of this variety are more difficult. We’re taught from a young age that effort guarantees success, which has caused me to blame nearly every failure I’ve experienced on my own laziness, lack of vision, and carelessness. But the examples I mentioned above have no simple fix. Accepting that there are failures I can’t control has been one of my biggest areas of growth, and I’m still not completely there yet. None of us will ever feel okay when we check a grade on SOLUS and discover that the final exam has ruined our hard work during the semester. But by recognizing causes of this disappointment that were uncontrollable, hopefully we can prevent ourselves from entering a spiral of self-shame. The strategies we learn to cope with failure at Queen’s will stay with us for life, and will continue to serve us in our future endeavours.
Alexa Fiorante (3rd Year, Biotechnology Specialization)
If I have learned anything, it’s that failure is inevitable, but it is the lessons that you learn from it that shape you as a person and make you a better student. It’s important to acknowledge that sometimes in life, things happen that are completely out of our control. A lot of the time, we are able to say “I should have studied more”, and we are easily able to identify where we went wrong. However, this is not always the case. It can be very challenging when situations such as a health condition or even the end of relationship affect your ability to focus on anything, let alone school. One may feel “weak” or not “strong enough” because they are trying to cope with the fatalities of a certain situation and how it is emotionally affecting them, all while sitting under the burdening pressure of being the perfect student. I know I’ve been there, and it may seem as though everyone else has it together, but in reality, we rarely share the vulnerable moments of our lives because everyone wants to be that person that has it “all together”. It takes courage and resilience to be able to acknowledge that there is a personal problem in your life and it is affecting your academics. Trying to seek help to deal with it so you can get back on track, is a great step, but it is equally acceptable to come to terms with the fact that it may take so much more and you have to realize what is realistic and what is not given the situation. The challenges you face in life makes it seem like there is a weight on your shoulders that may never come off. It crunches you until you finally break down and have to recognize what’s important, and that may mean not getting an A, or maybe not even a B. At the end of the day, you will be your best self when you are healthy and happy, and your academics will reflect that. For the things that aren’t that simple as creating a more comprehensive study plan or going to office hours regularly, it is important to self-reflect and realize that it is okay to not be okay, and it is the vulnerability and resilience you gain from accepting the will to change for the better is what sets you apart from the rest.
Failure is a normal and common reality of the university experience. There are services available if you need help coping: