My cat comforted me as I read my latest rejection letter: my manuscript had once again been denied by a scholarly journal.
Rejection letters make us feel awful. Whether these letters are just a few lines of text, or printed with elaborate letterheads on sturdy paper, we always feel grief and disappointment. I argue that as scientists and academics we need to change this by broadly sharing our rejections as well as our victories. This would eliminate the stigmas surrounding rejection letters, making scientists happier and less discouraged when they get them.
I’ll start. I have one academic publication and seven rejection letters from scientific journals. One of my manuscripts alone has been rejected by three journals. When applying to PhD programs, I was accepted by two and rejected by two. I’ve received rejection letters from several grants and scholarship applications as well. I’ve learned that in academia, if you want something, you have to apply for it several times.
So why did I feel so bummed when I read this latest rejection letter? “How could this be?” I asked my cuddly calico cat, Pumpkin. I then felt embarrassed while writing the email to my co-authors, notifying them of the rejection. People were going to ask about the manuscript and I just felt awkward.
What I felt was wrong. These letters shouldn’t bring us down. The truth is that rejection letters are the norm in any academic or scientific application. Everyone has a pile of them, especially the most famous scientists. Rejections occur because we boldly applied for something too ambitious. The lessons we learn from them are the building blocks we use to achieve these high ambitions: publishing our papers, securing our fellowships, and presenting our research. Rejection letters are a normal and essential part of academic life.
We have created a stigma about rejections by only sharing victories on our CVs, websites, and social media. This has skewed perceptions so that rejection letters seem like a big misfortune. This discouragement is a real problem and I’m sure that some aspiring scientists just give up because of it.
To solve this problem, we need to broadly share our rejections, not just our victories. We need to list rejections on our websites, post them to social media, and tell our lab mates and students. We need to add a “Rejections” section to our CVs and watch as they grow 3x as long. By eliminating the stigma surrounding rejection letters, they will be less of a problem. Scientists will be happier and less discouraged, and our fellow academics won’t have to spend a lonely evening trying to justify their rejection to their cat.
Would you like to tally up your rejections in this post’s comments?
I would like to thank Sandra Sanchez for the idea for this post.