I recently completed my Masters of Research (MRes) at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. The MRes is a two year program consisting of one year of coursework and a one year research project. I had always received good marks in my undergraduate degree and really excelled in the first year of my research masters. My research year was tough at times and while I had some periods of doubt surrounding my research, deep down I never really considered that I wouldn’t excel in my degree. But I was in for a huge blow and over the past couple of months I have had my first real taste of academic rejection. I received some pretty critical feedback from an examiner, my first journal submission was rejected and I was unsuccessful in applying for a couple of grants. It really has been the first time in my studies that I haven’t felt like I was nailing it.
I’d like to say that I had the immediate ability and maturity to rise above, but it was truly deflating. It was tough and I found myself doubting not only the research I had undertaken so far, but my ability to actually continue as a researcher.
But following a few days of self-loathing, and inspiring conversations with peers and family, I pulled myself together. I repeated the mantra that got me through the last months of my masters (thanks to @cfawarren ), “I must remember that the quality of my data is by no means a reflection of me as a person”. I then came to terms with the fact that this certainly won’t be the last time I face rejection or receive criticism about my work and it is the reality of being a researcher. Feedback (positive, negative or constructive) from examiners and reviewers can only make you a better researcher, scientist and in the long run, a better teacher – a sentiment summed up well in Judy Robertson’s blog.
Coincidentally, I attended a networking event for Early Career Researchers (ECRs) at Macquarie University last week where Professor Lesley Hughes interviewed the very inspirational Debbie Haski-Leventhal (@DebbieHaski) about her journey and experiences as an early career researcher. Listening to some of the rejection she faced throughout her career and the strength she has formed was inspirational. She pointed out that as researchers we probably face more rejection than any other field (apart from, perhaps, actors). While this doesn’t necessarily make the rejection any easier, it’s important to remember that these experiences are shared across researchers and we all have to be resilient.
The reality is, securing grants and publishing papers isn’t easy (nor should it be) and persistence really is the key (read this blog post by Dr Sue Fletcher-Watson for another excellent summary on academic rejection). However, as Dr Fletcher-Watson points out, as much as persistence is important, so is our enthusiasm, confidence and most importantly our science.
I have no doubt that the outcome of the last couple of months has been a positive one for me. It has made me want to be a better scientist and do great research – and that makes me excited! I have submitted my paper to another journal and received my official offer for a PhD. Right now I’m feeling mature and positive…. The challenge will be how I deal with the next round of rejection.