A recent post from a student who was struggling academically sparked a discussion on our great online community, MyNSBE (www.nsbe.org/mynsbe). I was motivated to respond, which gave me the opportunity to consider what I’ve learned about failure and success during my own academic journey. I hope my message below was as helpful to the student who reached out as the process of writing it was to me.


Fellow Traveler,

Academic excellence in NSBE is most definitely a pursuit and not a destination. I can give you two things: a personal testimony and a boatload of advice about how to maintain your confidence.

During my community college days, one class was the bane of my existence. Multivariable calculus was probably the hardest class I have ever taken in my life, mainly because of the format of the class — two exams and a final, no homework for points! I failed that course twice before having to take it through a special program at the four-year university in my city. That was about two years ago, and now, I am proud to say that this past year at UC Davis, I received my first A+ ever in a STEM class: upper division quantum mechanics (…I know. Crazy, right???).

How did I do it? How did I grow? Well, here are a few pro tips on recovering from failing classes.

  1. Embrace your failure, and see it positively.

    Failure is a nasty truth about life, but your perspective on it determines how it will impact you. Instead of saying to yourself, “Man, I screwed up, and now my GPA is down...”, say to yourself, “This is a sign that I have the potential to get better. Now it’s up to me to get to the next level of excellence!" It is said that in life, your power does not lie in what you do with what you can control but how you react to the things you cannot. Ultimately, you have the choice to react in whatever way you see fit.

  2. Take failure seriously, and be action-oriented.

    Failure is great when we learn from our mistakes. Make a promise to yourself that this is something you will only do once. If you make that commitment to yourself, you will be driven to outperform to avoid repeating your mistakes. Assess meticulously what caused you to fail, and find a solution for each thing. Didn’t manage your time correctly? Make an advanced calendar showing how you spend every hour of your day, and stick to it. Didn’t study enough? Start studying now, and make something I call “A Book of Wonders,” which showcases every question you have about everything you learned. You may be surprised by how creative you will become to avoid failure.

  3. Know your worth.

    Understand that school is a small (but important) part of your life. Although you may be pressured to perform academically, you have to grow in other ways as well. Understand that, and embrace yourself holistically. There are many people who make it through college in four years with good GPAs but no soft skills. That may be one area to work on to complement your academic growth.

You come from a mighty people, so you should never hold your head down, KING.

Ryan D. Taylor is a senior at the University of California, Davis, majoring in chemical physics and minoring in energy science and technology.