Recently I have been thinking on one of the most difficult, it seems to me, issues around academics and their working life within academia, being rejected.
Although they might exist, I don’t know anyone that likes to be rejected. Myself being a psychologist have kind of a theoretical perspective on this. People engage better with their peers, and by being clustering themselves in little boxes. Let’s see some examples such as, I’m a psychologist, I’m part of that group. I’m a football player, I’m part of the sporters. I like beer, the beer group is for me. I aim to build my company, I will try to engage with people who aim the same or similar stuff, and so forth… Even the people that live alone into the wild will be part of a group. At least metaphysically, these people will belong to the group that was able [maybe allowed as well] to be as that.
But what happens when I am rejected to belong to a certain group is the interesting part. When someone, or something doesn’t allow you to belong to a determined group, and when you can’t control that. Kids at school, generally, like to be within the groups they see as the cool groups. Whatever cool means to each child. Teenagers start to build their groups based on their preferences, and by doing that, they start to have similar actions. I remember at my high school there was the motorbike group. I never felt that I belonged to that group for two main reasons. The first one was motivation. Although I knew the people from that group, I didn’t have motivation to be part of that group and pass the entire class break looking to a bike. The second reason was the practicality of belonging to such group: I didn’t have a bike. And I didn’t want to buy one too. So, I was neither motivated and meeting the requirements to be part of the motorbike group. And therefore, I saved the time of the people from that specific group to think on something which is extremely important to this conversation, acceptation. They didn’t need to think if they’d accept me as a rider or not.
So, people need to be motivated and to meet requirements to belong to certain groups. Some motivations are bigger, and some requirements are also higher than others. And then, people need [or want] to be accepted.
Jumping again from my high school to academia, I believe we can find some similarities between both environments. Let’s transform the motorbike group to the high-profile academics. The motorbike will be a journal article, and the cool kids with bikes are, you can guess, other high-profile academics which one can aim to achieve the same status level.
Does it make sense? You are free to not accept it and stop reading this text!
So, firstly I needed to be completely motivated to achieve such level. Then I needed to meet the requirements. Writing journal articles. And then hope for acceptation from my peers, and this is when the problem occurs.
It seems that a huge amount of people show-off their achievements publicly. And that’s fine. I’m the first person advocating for that. If you got it, say it. Show it. Get your credit for that. It’s always great to see others’ success. Personally speaking, I like to see my colleagues’ successes. It makes me happy for them. As well as it makes me happy when those are mine. My mother used to tell me, humility and arrogance should be always with hands tied. A Portuguese circus artist said once something that adds value to my mom’s metaphor, he said, people use to confuse proud with arrogance.
However, we never have seen, or it’s less common, to see proud in being rejected. You probably didn’t find your boss entering the room and saying, “This is a wonderful day, I just got rejected on my grant application”. Obviously, what is there to celebrate? Nothing. Exactly nothing. It’s better to keep that only to us, and continue to play the role of Mr. I’m too good to be rejected, who everyone think “I wish to be like that one day”. As a colleague of mine would say, that’s bonkers…
So here it goes. Recently I tried to apply for a European funding for a social intervention project. Tones of applications where mine was only one more. And I didn’t get it. Sadly, I didn’t get it. To be honest it really makes me dead as I stayed a good amount of nights awaken doing the application, and then I see that a similar project [different scope though!] was selected for the final phase of the competition. First thought uses to be, “not fair!”. OK, keep that one. It’s not fair. But what it’s not fair is thinking “it’s not fair that the other was accepted”. Fair is looking to the other project and see what the other had that mine didn’t have. Was more specific whereas mine was broader in terms of participants and other details that doesn’t matter now. What matters is the possibility of seeing rejection as something that you can work on, make it better and use it again.
It was not the only rejection I had. I had already papers being rejected from journals as well. This is something really interesting. After having your dose of frustration and after doing its management. See the good part of it, if the journal was good enough to do some comments and suggestions about why you were rejected you will have the same thing I had: loads of details on how could I improve my work. I that was what I did, I rearranged it and submit it again to another journal and eventually got published.
Something that I find extremely important is the fact that by doing this kind of action, you start to get within this system. Whether you like and agree with it or not that’s another discussion [for another post I’d say]. But you start to have your academic engines oiled on how to submit, deadlines, structuring your work with the focus on publications, etc etc. I am NOT at all someone 100% academic, don’t take this as gold standard, just take it as personal experience. In the end, it all will depend on how you see the glass, half empty or half full, or even, both!
I don’t want to seem romantic. But it reminds me Lavoisier, “Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed”, which by the way is a further reasoning from Epicurus.
Another note I’d like to have at this point is the fact that peers, especially younger ones, even more specifically, in academia, may like to know that their supervisors time to time are rejected, that is not the end of the world, and that sometimes it might be unfair – constrictions of the rules of the game – but sometimes is more than a rejection, is a moment where people can make a better job, can exceed themselves and find them with a piece of work even better than what they had before.
And, more, something that my supervisor uses to say, it would make people feel better! And that, in academia, is probably one of the most important parts.
Pressures within academia nowadays are just insane. Academics are pushed towards a dead alley where their outcome needs to be journal articles in high ranked journals. But, what is a high ranked journal? What is an impact factor? Is it accurate? Do we agree with that? Is it still dreadful to be rejected by something that we just want to be part of because of social pressures? Instead of because we want to be better, because we are motivated and because we constantly aim to meet the requirements…
Maybe one day we’ll have the rejection day.
Till there, enjoy your rejections as much as your achievements!
See you all soon!