Handling Rejection in Academia

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With the job market so competitive at the moment, you will probably have to handle rejection if you are looking for work. But this is also an issue for those scholars who are not active jobseekers, as rejection from funding bodies, journals and conference is a common experience. This article explores how to handle rejection in the academic world and turn it into a positive and developmental experience.

Job market:

The easiest way to cope with rejection in a job is to believe that you were not what the university was looking for, rather than fearing that you were not good enough. If you have got through to interview stage and not got the job then there is still plenty that you can learn from interview experience, whether you are new to academia or applying for second, third or fourth job. Getting feedback from interviewers is a great way to improve your interview technique.

Don’t lose heart and allow rejection to sway you from your job search. Simply try again. However, also be realistic; if there is anything you can improve in your application materials then act now to do so.

When to give up?

Some scholars get to the point where they feel they can no longer endure the constant rejection caused by the failure to secure a post. Being sensible about your priorities is the most important developmental work you can do to progress your career. If you have applied for 50 jobs and not got one interview, then you either need to choose another career, or work on improving your chances by enhancing your CV.

Failure in publishing in a journal:

Submitting an article for publication and having it rejected can be a very painful process, especially as some reviewers don’t mince their words when it comes to giving reasons why a piece is unsuitable. It can give your confidence a serious knock to find out that a scholar in your field thinks your work is complete rubbish! However, remember this is just the view of one person. Amongst the harsh comments, there may be some constructive criticism, so take the time to read comments carefully and consider amending your work accordingly. You may feel that the reviewer’s remarks are unjustified, in which case the best response is to try to submit your article as it is, elsewhere. If you are unsure, ask a friendly colleague to read over your work and the reviewer’s comments to see whether they believe the remarks to be fair.

Failure to secure research funding:

Many scholars are stoic about this because they know that the chances of securing grants from external funding bodies are very slim (fewer than one in five applications gets rewarded by many of the research councils). So often people submit applications with little hope of achieving success, and thus are not too disappointed when that rejection comes. However, again, a lot can be learned from the reviewers’ comments. In many cases a scholar in your field will have gone through your proposal in some detail and will have interesting things to say about how to improve it. The rejection can be disappointing because achieving a big award can benefit one’s career and because of the length of time these applications take to put together. Ask advice from your Research and Development office and consider smaller, less competitive award schemes. Many of these have money to spare so can provide a lucrative source of funding that will also look good on your CV.

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