Rejections build character

There are a lot of blogs written by young science researchers which often post or link to posts with advice to PhD students – many come up in my Twitter feed but I’ve also listed some of my favourite blogs in my blogroll (to the left). Regardless of the country of origin (many are US but also UK), they are generally quite cautionary and often mention the importance of learning to deal with failure. I’m sure this is not unique to me but part of why I am at the point of doing a PhD is because I have mostly been quite successful throughout school and university. Obviously, not always and not necessarily compared to everyone around, but I have set my standards high for myself and so I thought that dealing with rejections might be a problem for me.

However, I’m lucky enough to have a supportive supervisor/PI who understands the importance of publications at the beginning of your career. As a pre-PhD research assistant, I was involved in plenty of exciting analyses. Each of the 3 papers I co-wrote so far has been questioned or rejected at the first hurdle. The first time, the journal required what seemed like a million changes. My supervisor brushed aside many of the comments I worried over quite casually, only addressing a the more important ones. The paper got accepted straight after that and she even gave me a hard copy of the journal when it came out.

With the next submission, an important guy from my research group suggested aiming really high just for the heck of it. The rejection came relatively quickly, along with a host of fairly scathing comments. This time, I was far less shocked because I had picked up on everyone else’s attitudes. We brushed the manuscript off, worked really hard to address the comments, changed the slant and sent it somewhere new, where it is being reviewed at the moment according to the journal’s website. It is actually a much better paper for it so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

By the time the third paper was rejected, I barely batted an eyelash. Although, I have to say I am thoroughly unimpressed that the journal demanded we re-format the references and change a few other minor and petty details before the editor would even read it. We didn’t even get any comments back on this one as I don’t think it was sent out for review. So although the rejection didn’t faze me that much, the way the journal treated us annoyed me somewhat.

I just hope that I will succeed in remaining as relatively stoic if and when the same things happen to my future papers, ones that are completely my own PhD-related work. It seems almost like it’s the norm to have papers rejected or substantially revised and frequently needing to try submitting a paper more than once. It looks like determination and the support of good role models and mentors is going to be essential on this quest.


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