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My wall of rejection and why it matters

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

AlexaDelbosc rejection wall


New paper on double stimulation: how parents escape impossible situations

Another paper from my Creating Better Futures research project, funded by the ARC, has been published.

Hopwood, N., & Gottschalk, B. (2017). Double stimulation “in the wild”: Services for families with children at risk. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 13, 23-37. doi:10.1016/j.lcsi.2017.01.003

There is a 3 minute video abstract available to view, which summarises the key points of the paper.

The paper uses the Vygotskian concept of double stimulation to understand how nurses in early intervention services can help parents who find themselves trapped in impossible situations (for example wanting to be close to a child to comfort them, but feeling they need to separate because they are in a highly distressed state and worried they might harm them). The solution lies not in correcting parents’ ‘wrong’ behaviours, but in helping them take control of the situation by using objects in their environment, their bodies, and ideas, in specific ways. The paper refers closely to Annalisa Sannino’s recent work in which she developed a model of double stimulation.

Here is the abstract:

The concept of double stimulation provides a framework for understanding the promotion of volitional action. In this article the concept is applied “in the wild”, to analyse professional practice in parenting services for parents with young children at risk. We answer questions about (i) how concepts of double stimulation account for features of professional–parent interactions and what new insights are offered by this, and (ii) how double stimulation in the wild relates to the processes specified in a recently articulated model of double stimulation, and wider concepts of expansive learning. Examples of interactions between a professional (nurse) and a new mother illustrate how an absence of auxiliary stimuli may trap parents in conflicted situations. We found that in promoting double stimulation, professionals work simultaneously in two dialectically related fields: getting the parent to act using new auxiliary stimuli and getting them to think differently about the object. Such work may unfold in non-linear and discontinuous fashion and places complex demands on professionals.

The paper:

  1. Applies conceptual model of double stimulation in practice setting
  2. Extends literature on double stimulation in relation to volitional action
  3. Casts new light on parenting intervention for families at risk
  4. Highlights overlooked forms of professional expertise in early intervention

Please get in touch if you would like a copy, or add a comment below if you have read it!



New video series on publishing in academic journals

A while back I made a video about publishing in academic journals. It has been pretty popular (nearly 3,000 views). However the time has come for an update! So many things have changed in terms of publishing infrastructure, artefacts, relationships between authors and publishers, etc.

This time, I’ve broken the video down into four parts.

They can be viewed as a complete series in one video here (32 minutes), or as separate videos via the links below:

Part 1 – Trends in academic journal publishing: what is changing, what is staying the same? (11:45)

Part 2 – Copyright, Open Access and what these mean for authors (05:14)

Part 3 – Journal quality, status indicators (Impact Factor, alt metrics etc) (09:18)

Part 4 – Introduction to peer review (05:52)

There are also versions available with subtitles in Arabic. A huge shukran to Abdullah for the translation!

Part 1 (Arabic)  |  Part 2 (Arabic)  |  Part 3 (Arabic)  |  Part 4 (Arabic)

Please add your comments below: What did you take from the videos as key points? Were some things surprising? What would you like to hear more about? What is missing? Do you disagree with some things I say?

If you’re coming to a workshop with me on publishing and peer review, watching all four parts is essential in your pre-workshop preparation. We will start by asking what your key points and further questions are.

Given how many researchers I’ve worked with from Aotearoa New Zealand, there’s a (rather unsubtle) silent shout-out to you at the start and end of each video! Hope you like it…


New paper – free download and video abstract!

Another paper has come online this week – again relating to my Creating Better Futures ARC funded study. This one was my second publication with Anne Edwards from Oxford University – someone I admire greatly for her work developing and applying cultural-historical theory. We worked together on the analysis reported here while Anne visited UTS as part of our Distinguished Visiting Scholars scheme in 2016. It is a privilege to work with the world’s best researchers in my field.

Hopwood N & Edwards A (2017) How common knowledge is constructed and why it matters in collaboration between professionals and clients. International Journal of Educational Research 83, 107-119. doi: 10.1016/j.ijer.2017.02.007

A couple of firsts for me in publishing, too!

  1. This paper can be downloaded free of charge until 12 May 2017 – some Elsevier offered without me asking! Use this link:
  2. There is a video abstract to accompany the written version – just a couple of minutes talking through the key points. I really like the idea of video abstracts, and know Routledge/Taylor & Francis are offering similar options to their authors now, too. Here is the link:

And here is the text abstract:

Professionals are increasingly called upon to work with clients. We employ cultural-historical concepts to reveal how professionals and clients accomplish joint work on problems in services for families with young children. Professional–client interactions in day stay and home visiting services are considered, first focusing on how matters of concern are worked into departures of significance (employing ‘D-analysis’), then conceptualising joint professional–parent work in terms of common knowledge and the object of activity. The importance of motives and their alignment is revealed. We show the value of D-analysis in elucidating how common knowledge can be constructed and why this process may be problematic. Finally, we reflect on the fluid and situated nature of this kind of collaborative work.

New paper on partnership with parents of young children

Very pleased to announce publication of the latest paper from my Creating Better Futures ARC funded research project. This was written with partners from Karitane, Tresillian and Northern Sydney Local Health District, whose contributions to the study and the paper we greatly appreciate!

Clerke, T., Hopwood, N., Chavasse, F., Fowler, C., Lee, S., & Rogers, J. (2017). Using professional expertise in partnership with families: a new model of capacity-building. Journal of Child Health Care, 21(1), 74-84. doi:10.1177/1367493516686202


The first five years of parenting are critical to children’s development. Parents are known to respond best to interventions with a partnership-based approach, yet child and family health nurses (CFHNs) report some tension between employing their expertise and maintaining a partnership relationship. This article identifies ways in which CFHNs skilfully use their professional expertise, underpinned by helping qualities and interpersonal skills, to assist families build confidence and capacity, and thus buffer against threats to parent and child well-being. It reports on an Australian ethnographic study of services for families with young children. Fifty-two interactions were observed between CFHNs and families in day-stay and home visiting services in Sydney. A new model is presented, based on four partnership activities and the fluid movement between them, to show how CFHNs use their expertise to identify strengths and foster resilience in families in the longer term, without undermining the principles of partnership.

PhD 3.0 – Why research students have to be gardeners, curators, and selectors of knowledge

This blog is about skills that research students need to have today to make use of unprecedented learning opportunities and availability of knowledge via the internet.

I have just come out of a session I ran with UTS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences new research students. (These include PhD, Masters by Research, Doctor/Master of Creative Arts, and Doctor in Education, but I tend to use ‘PhD’ as a shorthand for all of these, because it seems to be what people search for most online).

My aim was to give them a sense of what is out there online for postgrad research students, as well as what is in the various UTS intranet sites (so they don’t have to annoy our staff with questions where the answers are already online).

From PhD 1.0 to PhD 3.0

PhD 1.0 was before my time (just) – when everything was paper based. Before the internet. Yes, people actually managed to make contributions to knowledge without email and online access to journals. They went to libraries and read hard copies, and have offices with shelves full of journals they paid to subscribe to.

PhD 2.0 was my era (I did my PhD 2003-2006). Lots of journals had started going online – new issues were often available digitally, although the older ones hadn’t been digitised yet. This made being lazy, staying at home or in my office, easier, but didn’t have the social interaction and user input we associate with the internet these days.

PhD 3.0 is what we have now. Nearly all journal papers and many books are now digitised (offering instant access, albeit with barriers around licences and payment that unequally and unfairly privilege some while disadvantaging others). But now, this is not just about one-way traffic, but about interaction. There are alt-metrics that track how many times people tweet or mention publications. There are webinars synchronously linking people all over the world, and blogs and twitter feeds that asynchronously allow us to have conversations and debates, as well as sharing resources with each other.

This is what I mean by unprecedented opportunity and knowledge flows. But with this comes new forms of skill, expertise and responsibility for students.

Decentred universities in virtually figured worlds

This all sounds rather hoity-toity doesn’t it? Well I wish I could claim the words are mine, but they’re not. They are from Russell Francis, with whom I shared an office when doing my PhD (happy days, Russ!). Based on his PhD he wrote a brilliant book (published by Routledge). He sat with students at uni (undergrads and postgrads) and watched what they did.

What he realised was that the uni, and face to face contacts, were not the ‘centre’ of their learning universe. They were an important part of a dynamic, adapting and evolving set of knowledge flows and connections that extended well beyond campus. His ‘virtually figured worlds’ included blogs, online and offline affinity groups, people interacting via emails, and other on- and offline platforms. An idea in this book points to the main thrust of this blog post, and what I was wanting to impress on our new research students today…

Cultivating and curating globally distributed funds of (living and digitally mediated) knowledge

More hoity toity words! But there’s a really serious point here, and this brings me back to my title.

With all that information out there, research students these days need to develop and deploy specific skills. Otherwise you’ll end up spending all day being busy reading twitter feeds but accomplishing nothing.

Gardening knowledge funds

What I mean by this is planting seeds, cultivating their growth, nurturing connections. This might be personal relationships with other students or academics around the world working on similar topics. This might be ‘software discipline’ in terms of setting up twitter feeds or automatic journal table of contents emails, but then modifying them as things come in and out of your sphere of relevance. This is definitely not about just adding more and more. You will have to cut, chop, weed out. Hence the gardening idea.

Curating knowledge funds

I like the idea of curating: it implies taking care, paying attention, management. This is not just about controlling what you’re bombarded with when you open your inbox, log into twitter etc. It’s about being respectful of yourself and the authors of the knowledge you are digesting. This might be adding a comment to say thanks for a really amazing blog post [hint, hint], or politely engaging in constructive critique to open up debate. It might be retweeting something you think is really useful to your followers. It is also thinking (as a museum curator would) about display – how you access, arrange, and represent all the information you’re dealing with, so you can cope with it and make good choices. Which leads me to…

Selecting knowledge funds

There’s *quite* a lot of information on the internet. You need to make choices. You need to make good choices. What counts as good will change, frequently. Back in PhD 1.0 there were lots of journals to read, but the physicality of it meant often part of the struggle was one of access rather than needing to filter out. Now more than ever, researchers need a really good filter: what to read (or what to read in full, what to skim, what to cheat read/pretend to have read), what not to read, what to reply to, what not to reply to etc.

This requires you to be discerning with your globally distributed funds of knowledge. What adds real value? What can you get there that you can’t get anywhere else? What is nice but not necessary?

And finally, a plug for my hero

Perhaps my biggest intellectual hero is Lev Vygotsky, a psychologist from the Soviet Union who died in 1934. I won’t get started on why his ideas are amazing. But there’s a real link here. He talked about how when we work on problems using tools (which can be ideas, concepts, twitter feeds, blogs etc), not only does that change our approach to working on a problem, but it changes us, too. Things we use to get things done (to do work), work back on us.

So if we use globally distributed funds of knowledge uncritically, and unthinkingly, then those actions work back on us and turn our brains into things that are full of unsorted, mixed quality (at best) sludge.

What we, as human beings, can do, is use this principle pro-actively. We can arrange tools, put them in place, make them available, with the intention that doing so will affect us or our behaviour in some positive way. You can put a link on your web browser to a blog you should read. You can set up a journal TOC alert so you don’t forget a particular aspect or topic. You can commit to a meeting with your supervisor so you can’t procrastinate any longer. You can stick a post-it on your wall saying ‘stop checking facebook!’ or disconnect your laptop when you’re writing so you’re not tempted to check emails.

These are all very Vygotskian practices: controlling ourselves from the outside in.

So, PhD 3.0 is about being a good ‘gardener’ of knowledge – from a range of sources (planting, watering, weeding etc!),  not just being a repository, a sponge that soaks it all up, but being Vygotskian and taking control of your own learning from the outside – whether that outside is another person you meet face to face, someone you email, a dead guy (like Vygotksy for me!), a twitter feed, whatever.

Make this 3.0

In your comment below, share where you get your knowledge from, how you know it’s good and worthy of your attention. What do you do to cultivate, curate and discern? Do you use any Vygotskian techniques – controlling your behaviour from the outside? Share!

New paper on interprofessional collaboration in health

I’m delighted to announce the #OpenAccess publication of this paper:

Lindh Falk A, Hopwood N & Abrandt Dahlgren M (2017) Unfolding Practices: A Sociomaterial View of Interprofessional Collaboration in Health CareProfessions and Professionalism 7(2) doi: 10.7577/pp.1699

The primary author is Annika Lindh Falk, whose doctoral research is reported in the paper. A practice theory perspective is taken in analysis of detailed ethnographic data from a rehabilitation ward in Sweden.

This is one of many outputs from a longstanding collaboration between myself and colleagues at Linköping Universitet, Faculty of Education and Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences. The online preview was made available in 2016, with the paper scheduled for inclusion in Vol 7, Issue 2 (2017).

The abstract is below – please have a read and tell us what you think!

Knowledge sharing is an essential part of interprofessional practice and will be even more important in the future in regard to the opportunities and challenges in practices for delivering safe and effective healthcare. The aim of this ethnographic study was to explore how professional knowledge can be shared in an interprofessional team at a spinal cord injury rehabilitation unit. A sociomaterial perspective on practice was used to analyse the data, and by theorizing upon this, we captured different aspects of interprofessional collaboration in health care. The findings illuminate how knowledge emerges and is shared between professionals, and how it passes along as chain of actions between professionals, in various ways. The findings offer a novel perspective on how interprofessional collaboration as a practice, involving ongoing learning, unfolds. This reveals the mechanisms by which different forms of expertise are mobilized between professions as health care work.