If I had a magic wand and could change something about academia, I would make it commonplace for people to share their rejections – on blogs, by emailing colleagues, by running to their office neighbours, print-out in hand, saying “You won’t believe how awful the review I got this morning was! Come and laugh at it with me over coffee!”. I’d love for our workplace walls to be covered with juicy rejections.
#rejectionwall #failurewall #rejectionisnormal #noshame
I recently updated my shadow CV and this got me thinking about rejections. The topic came up last week when I was sat with three very highly respected female professors. The four of us shared our battle scars together, almost competitively one-upping each other: “you think that rejection was bad, mine was worse!”. It turned out three of us had actually been rejected after having papers accepted (as an editor, I didn’t even know ‘unaccept’ was a button you could press in the system!).
The conference that brought us all together had a strong theme relating to materialities, and I started thinking about the materialities of rejection: or, in fact how hidden away academic rejections are from public view, how often they remain in the private digital aether. I made the decision there and then to tear down all the copies of publications that were currently festooned on my office door. After all, while I felt good coming past them each day, it probably didn’t have the same effect on my colleagues. I realised, perhaps *little* late, that my successes are public enough. People have no problem accessing the ‘Nick is awesome’ version of my career; it is even foisted on them at times without them having to look. What was clearly needed was a visceral, material reminder, an exposé of my many journal rejections, failed research grant applications, and missed job opportunities. Yes, these are in my shadow CV, but that itself is shadowy: only accessed if you know to look for it.
There are some wonderful examples of people sharing rejections (see this fantastic blog by the always awesome Pat Thomson, for example). But I still worry this stuff is too hidden from view.
Ta dah! Here is my new wall of rejection – there for all my colleagues and visiting students to see. I intend to keep it there, and keep adding to it as the rejections flow in.
Why am I doing this?
One responder to a tweet in which I shared a similar picture, @drlizziewho asked: Why do you do this? Good question.
I was simply amazed by the response to the tweet. Over 90,000 impressions, and nearly 700 retweets in the first 15 hours (unprecedented in my contributions to the tweetosphere). People commenting seemed to be from two groups:
- Students and early career researchers, who took solace in realising rejection affects us all, is normal, and is nothing to be ashamed of; the value here was that rejection doesn’t mean you’re not good enough, but this message isn’t communicated very often
- More experienced researchers who wonderfully acknowledged their own rejections. I’d like to quote a few of them here and thank them for joining the fun
@Liam_Wagner: I think I will plagiarise your idea and cover my office wall with my own list.
@StephenBHeard: You might like my job-rejection list (an awesome blog that develops the theme of the shadow cv)
@SimmsMelanie: I love telling people that I got rejected from my own journal – more than once
@RoseGWhite: I’m sure I could cover a whole corridor like this!
@JRobinHighley: I would start my own display, but not sure I have a wall big enough
@TrevorABranch: My wall is not big enough
@naynerz: If that were my office, not enough all space for my rejections LOL
@mathewjowens: I’m tempted to do this for grant rejections. Though I fear for the deforestation effect
@SJC_fishy: I would need a much larger wall
@RobHarcourt: So would I!
And so it goes on… I simply love how the tweet has prompted those of us who have enjoyed some successes to relish in sharing our less fortunate moments.
@SiouxsieW asked: Does it not depress you seeing that every day? My answer is no! Not at all. It helps to project me from being wounded when the rejections come (and they are definitely coming!) – by keeping me real and helping realise despite all the rejections in the past, I’m still doing okay – indeed I’m doing better every year (though this doesn’t mean the rejection rate goes down). I also admit it gives me a buzz to think the wall, or pictures of it, are perhaps helping others in some small way.
Exposing our rejections is not just important, but necessary in my view, for these reasons:
- If we don’t do so, we collude in producing a half-truth about academic life and careers: it’s like hiding all the out-takes.
- It’s not just about fun and laughing with (not at) others. The point is that research, careers, publications are not smooth; their journeys into the light of success are bumpy, full of dead ends and disasters. We have to come clean that this is part of knowledge production.
- Research would suggest that rejections don’t affect everyone the same way. It’s easy enough for me, with a full time, ongoing job, to brush off a rejection and keep going. It’s not the same for people whose positions are less secure, or whose immediate futures relied on that grant or article getting through.
- The professors I was talking to commented that there might be a gender dimension in how we respond to and are affected by rejections. Not that all women respond one way and all men another, but that historically, perhaps the publicity around male success and continued disproportionate representation of men in leadership positions generally, might mean that rejections can ‘bite’ women in particular ways.
- There is a pedagogy here – not only normalising rejection, but also potentially modelling ways to deal with it. I’m no masochist. I don’t find rejection fun. I fear rejection. Of course I do. Everything I’ve had rejected has mattered to me, reflected hours of work and emotional input. But I don’t let fear of rejection stop me from trying in the first place. And I don’t let the experience of rejection prevent me from keeping going.
So, here is a really serious call for help:
If you’ve had a rejection, or a whole pile of them, please share with us! Maybe publish your shadow CV, or take a picture of your own #rejectionwall – or do something else creative! Maybe write and tell me what you and colleagues are doing to normalise rejection and build pedagogies of how to deal with it.
STOP PRESS! I’ve been (joyously) overwhelmed by the response to the tweet and blog. Here are some links to things I’ve received from people 🙂
Peggy Blair’s blog in which she shows off her rejections from the publishing industry
An article about another Shadow CV – this time from a really big prof!
A heads up about a paper that will be coming out in the Professional Geographer journal, about failure in academia (Thom Davies et al) – will update with more info when it comes out!
And the first person to share their #rejectionwall – thanks a billion @AlexaDelbosc …