Researchers who closely miss out on funding early in their careers are more likely to succeed eventually, shows a study. (Photo: iStock)
Researchers who closely miss out on funding early in their careers are more likely to succeed eventually, shows a study. (Photo: iStock)

How an early setback can help careers

  • Early career hurdles actually help spur future success for scientists, according to a study by Yang Wang and others from US-based Northwestern University
  • The authors studied the prospects of junior scientists applying for research grants at the US National Institute of Health (NIH)

NEW DELHI: In every job, new employees face setbacks early on in their career. How do these setbacks impact long-term career prospects?

At least in the scientific research industry, these setbacks can help.

Early career hurdles actually help spur future success for scientists, according to a study by Yang Wang and others from US-based Northwestern University.

The authors studied the prospects of junior scientists applying for research grants at the US National Institute of Health (NIH), the world’s largest public funder for biomedical research.

They focused on grant proposals that fell just below and just above the funding threshold.

They then compared the “near-miss" and “near-win" group of individuals to examine long-term career outcomes, which is measured in terms of successful research publications.

The researchers found that an early career setback significantly increases attrition, with a “near-miss" predicting 10% chance of disappearing permanently from the industry (the NIH system in this case). However, those who persevere are more successful.

In the 10 years following the grant award, the authors found that the “near-miss" group of individuals outperformed the “near-win" group by a factor of 21% in terms of “hit" publications, or papers that were in the top 5% in terms of citations in any given year.

The “near-miss" group also showed a higher average citation across all published papers.

The authors suggest that these results support the classic idea that “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger". The early setback motivated researchers to work harder. This meant they were more successful in the long run, an encouraging message for anyone who may be set back early on in their careers.

Also read: Early-career setback and future career impact

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