Researchers' Coffee Morning on Rejection


Academic life is challenging. There are many rewarding experiences to be had, but part of pursuing a career in academia means you will likely face many instances of rejection. Whether that be for funding bids, job applications or publishing, it is something every researcher will face at some point in their career.

In last week’s Researchers’ Coffee Morning, we asked our panel to share their experiences of rejection in academia, and to tell us about any strategies or advice they may have about how to deal with this.

With Professor Duncan Pirrie, Professor Sandra Esteves, Professor Bev John and Dr Lauren Josie Thomas.

Here are some tips that the panel shared with us:

1. Rejection doesn’t always have to be a negative experience.
There can be positive outcomes, too. While your application for a research grant may have been unsuccessful, it could lead to a different opportunity (maybe a new project or collaboration). As Professor Sandra Esteves said during the coffee morning, “you always win”.

2. Shift your mindset.
Instead of viewing your experience as simply a “rejection”, try and see it as a “critical review” instead. For academics, critical feedback is really useful, and sometimes the reviewer’s comments can help improve your work.

3. It’s not you, it’s them…
Rejection usually comes down to someone else’s opinion being different from your own, and sometimes, it’s simply down to flaws in the system. Remember, you can challenge this.

4. Don’t let it hold you back.
Try and learn from your experiences and reinforce the positive outcomes. Rejection is a great learning opportunity. It can help us find solutions to challenges and learn how to overcome them.

5. Learn from others.
Talk to your colleagues, who undoubtedly have experienced instances of rejection themselves. Share advice and learn from each other. Having a good network around you is important and is a reminder that you are not alone.


The panel members also shared some useful advice for PGR students:

1. Rejection is part of the journey, so try and be open to the challenges that will come your way. As mentioned above, try and see rejection as a learning opportunity: not only will it help improve your work, but it helps with personal growth, too. For PGR students, it’s a good way to learn how to deal with critical feedback and how to articulate a defence.

2. Try and make life easy for the reviewer. For example, if you are submitting an article for publication, ask yourself: is this the right journal to publish my research? Also, make your introduction clear and articulate the importance of your work.

3. Remember there are other ways you can use your PhD and contribute to research, knowledge and impact. Academia isn’t for everyone and it’s not the only route you have to follow once you finish your PhD.