navigating self-perceived failures

foundations to ux research course

Duration: January 2021 - March 2021 (8 weeks)
Role: Solo researcher

Research Methods:
- Surveys
- Secondary Research
- 1:1 Structured Interviews
- Affinity Mapping
- Personas

Background: Failure is all around us, but what does this mean to an individual’s experience? How does failure affect student learning outcomes and the individual perceptions of their ability to succeed?

research plan

how do undergraduate students currently navigate points of self-perceived failures?

Key Objectives:
1. Understand students’ beliefs of achievement and the rationales behind the need to resist failure.
2. Understand how external factors and expectations affect students’ perception of failure.

Process Map Diagram


survey creation & recruitment

Survey Creation:

1. Google forms with dynamic questions / answers
2. Calendly scheduling for 6 one on one hour long interviews

Survey Results

Findings from Survey Data:
1. 81% of students reported they did not have a clear understanding or purpose in pursuing an undergraduate degree
2. Students reported that feelings of belonging and control are correlated with self esteem and academic performance (GPA based)

Research session

secondary research & Interviews

Findings from Secondary Research:

1. individuals are disadvantaged, experience greater shame, and experience greater criticism from leadership figures when exhibiting poor behavior, coupled with the threat and fear of failure and evaluation. 

2. Intrinsic learning is most strong when individuals exert growth oriented learning objectives paired with leadership figures directly assist with that individual’s potential. 

3. The fundamentals and rationale of academic pursuit from pre-college perspectives coupled with institution values can greatly influence a student’s post-college outcomes and personal values.

Sessions were conducted via Zoom video conferencing tool, transcribed and encoded using and written notes. Students were sampled from 4 year Universities from across the country, primarily from the University of Washington, and Oberlin College.


affinity mapping & persona creation

end result

Key findings

1. Definitions of success are often modeled by external factors (from peers, family, culture, etc).
These definitions of success also shape the students’ definitions of failure: mostly focusing on the feeling of not obtaining a goal, or believing that a desired goal is unattainable. These external factors inform how an individual compares themselves to others.

2. Students compare a lot more when they feel like they are generally underachieving to their own standards.
Conversely, students compare significantly less when they are more confident and less anxious about their own expectations and standards. Students with a high sense of achievement and are less competitive-trait anxiety often feel more positively toward their failures.

3. Current methodologies of understanding student successes and failures are psychology based and currently lack robust technological solutions. 
Many applications and systems are available to enhance a student’s academic track through learning management systems, but there is a lack of support for students who have experienced or are currently experiencing failure.

This presents itself as both a challenge and an opportunity: the opportunity to explore and carve an alternative avenue to support students, as well as the challenge of focusing on failures rather than focusing on and supporting student success.


There are two main vectors to address the problem space: either by reducing the risk of failure, or to focus on directly improving coping mechanisms.

Potential technological solutions can include mindfulness techniques and mental health targeted applications to address improving coping mechanisms.

Other solutions can target social change in academic institutions to do more to support their students, improve peer to peer relationships in order to reduce competitive academic environments.    


lessons learned & next steps

1. I still make assumptions
Sometimes it’s not enough to focus on individual points of problems and that some issues are systemic and deeply rooted in an individual’s personality and schema. 

2. If I could jump back in time to do this over
I would push harder to incorporate diary studies to gain deeper ethnographic understanding throughout the duration of this research project. I missed an opportunity to gain further insights to a longer term observation of students rather than a point-in-time examination. 

3. We aren't done yet.
There are still information gaps that would require further research to consider a larger subset of students.

I am actively continuing this investigation and work toward development of possible solutions.