Me and my rejections

It’s been a somewhat hard-knock life this week in the aftermath of a grant rejection. Rejections aren’t that surprising, or uncommon, but they do knock your ego, even if just a smidge and just for a moment. So I’ve been reflecting on what I wrote in response to a gorgeous friend’s blog ( and how you carry on when all you want to do is throw said [insert rejecting thing here] in the river and walk away from it all. Move to a windswept cottage on an Irish coast with a roaring fire and spend the rest of your days writing. You know, just as a hypothetical.


It’s this strange, naked thing to be a researcher sometimes, and I imagine this nudity is inhabited by anyone who offers their work up for public consumption and acceptance. There’s a vulnerability in offering something up you’ve brought to creative life. And research has always been a creative outlet in a strange way with me – I’m imagining the sighs emanating from my lovely quantitative and scientific colleagues right now, but that’s always how it’s sat with me. Research is about finding something that may not have been found before, or not seen in the same way before. You’re bringing together literature, findings (in whatever form they take), and your way of doing and writing and being. And that’s always felt creative.


And the creative has not always come easily. It’s more often than not – far more often than not – damn hard work. I’ve always loved reading about how other writers write – to know that words that flow so effortlessly on a page were the product of sweat and blood. Sylvia Plath who always had a thesaurus with her as a way to constantly find the most beautiful, perfect fitting words. F Scott Fitzgerald who wrote draft after draft after draft of his novels. There’s something calming in knowing that other writers have stared at a blank page frozen and uncertain…


Maybe that’s why rejection can be so heartbreaking. In my head, criticism is easier to manage as there’s a get-out-of-jail card, there’s a way to fix it. Sometimes, maybe. But rejection just sits there, leaving you without a way out. It’s a hard space to sit peacefully in.


So I have embraced the words of two amazing writers – once again and always – to pick myself up and start again.

The hopeful despair (despairing hope) of Samuel Beckett who wrote: Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

And Elizabeth Gilbert whose TED talk on the failing makes me feel better in mine:

My mantras and my songs right now…


How do you find your way back to start again after rejection?

2 thoughts on “Me and my rejections

  1. There is an important difference between critical appraisal (and feedback) and brutal rejection. Academic life is (or should be) about discovery and the sharing of knowledge. This process is not limited to actual “research”, but should extend to the end reviewers sharing their thoughts in a constructive and beneficial manner that allow for the development of the researcher. All too often, it instead appears to be a mix of ego and bluster to cover up their own inadequacies. Grant and articles can be outright rejected but still have embedded useful critiquing that allows for improvement, but it seems that many reviewers instead allow their own insecurities to be revealed through long rants that serve no purpose to either the editor or the original writer.

    It is perhaps a vicious cycle; the cynicism that such a model fosters in young researchers then sees it perpetuate in subsequent generations. One of the benefits of some open-access journals (such as some of the BMC options for example) is that they publish the reviewer’s names and comments, along with the versions prior to final publication. This removes the barrier that many ‘courageous anonymous’ reviewers try to hide behind, as they know that others read exactly what they have said, and potentially then criticize them in return.

    To paraphrase the greatest philosopher of the modern era:
    “When a reviewer says nothing’s wrong, that means everything’s wrong. And when a reviewer says everything’s wrong, that means EVERYTHING’S wrong. And when an editor says something’s not funny, you’d better not laugh your arse off and you should take it out.”


    • It’s always a beautiful thing when you find people who can read your work and give you critical feedback that is both constructive and you know is from a place of only wanting to make the work better. They challenge and inspire you to make the work better.. We definitely need more of them in our lives!


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