Dealing with rejection: is there a right way?

It has been a strange month. I feel as though I have really taken the lows with the highs and my PhD emotions have been all over the place. I think my biggest realisation is that during my first year I was PhD spoilt! Everything went as I wanted it to. I was able to attend every conference I wished to go to, I collected the majority of my data and I was really starting to feel like a part of my field. Three months into my second year I can’t say I’m still being spoilt. For the first time I’m dealing with academic rejection. And a lot of it!

Grant Applications

I need to do some fieldwork in Europe. I have my institutions picked and my dates set. Everything is pretty much ready… apart from funding. I knew that asking for money from my institution may be hard so I applied for two grants to help. I have had one back and it wasn’t great. They said that whilst my project is interesting and important they think my PhD methodology is too ambitious. I didn’t really know what to think about this. I know my PhD is a big challenge for what I want to do, but I never thought that would be seen as a bad thing. I guess the feedback just took me by surprise! I still have one grant application to hear back from, but I won’t find out until the end of January. As I go on my fieldwork in February it looks as though I’m going to be funding it myself.

Article Reviews

I submitted my first solo article for review this month. The journal is a relatively new one, but there are a lot of big names on the editorial and reviewer teams. I submitted my article, which I’ve been working on for a little under a year, and didn’t really think more of it. Until I got the reviewer comments and ouch! Apparently my article is hyperbolic and the subject not compelling. These are two of the slightly nicer comments. I felt like this was it. Another rejection of something I not only wanted, but needed. I didn’t really know what to do about it and how to handle the harsh criticism.

Then it hit me. This is academia! This is what happens when you are trying to make a name for yourself in your field. There will always be people who don’t like your work, don’t find it interesting or, quite honestly, aren’t open minded to it. And that’s okay. It doesn’t make me a bad researcher. It just means I have to try that little bit harder.

I went to see the lovely alawuntoherself, as I do when I need someone at work (see last blog for our PhD buddy experience!), and she gave me some awesome advice. Elaine had had a similar review experience just a few weeks ago. And she felt the exact same way I did: deflated and upset. But Elaine has played the game, edited her article and it will now be published. She pointed out that the editor still wants the revised version this month and I have an open door there. This is so true. It’s not the end, I can’t just give up without a fight! So I will revise and grit my teeth through the quite upsetting comments, but I will have it published.


And then I realised that whilst I have had a rocky month, there have also been some big positives.

I got my first publication! It has finally happened, my name is in print alongside my lovely second supervisor’s. It was such an elating moment to know that I have something published after a year of planning what articles I will write. Seeing my name on the journal website really spurred me on to keep going. After all, some people like my work!

I’m also starting to feel like a teacher. I have been teaching for almost a year now and I feel as though I have really tried to develop myself as a teacher. I used to get very nervous for classes and would spend hours and hours prepping. This nervousness has slowly started to disappear lately and the other day when I was teaching I realised I now feel like a teacher. I feel like I know what I’m doing and how best to give the information to my students. This was amazing and it did make me smile. No as much as when one of my students told me that I was her favourite teacher!

Finally, I realised I’m growing a thick academic skin. Why did I spit my dummy out so much with these rejections? Because I wasn’t used to it, is the short answer. However, I also have put my work out there in ways which I hadn’t last year. I have been asking people to review my work without me being there to defend it. I have been trying new things which carry a lot of competition. This is academia and if I’m to keep up I need to grow a thicker skin and get on with it. Otherwise, I’ll never make it in this career! It’s not just me that this happens to. It happens to all academics, but they keep going and keep trying. My PhD journey is preparing me for this.

I may have to pay for my own fieldwork, but it’s so I can complete my PhD. This is worth it. I will have to heavily revise my article to get it published. This is also worth it. Academia can be a fun game, you just have to know how to play it and pick yourself up when you stumble. There is no right way to deal with rejection, you do what you have to do. It’s more about what you do after the rejection to make the situation better.


So next time something doesn’t go my way I have vowed to give myself an hour to grumble and be mad. But after that I will try again and I will succeed!