Tuesday, February 26, 2013

On Rejection


Yesterday, I got a rejection letter.

Now, everyone on the academic job market gets rejection letters on a pretty regular basis. I’ve gotten my fair share. I used to save them, thinking that the pile I was amassing would be an instructive stack I could share with some protégé in my future tenure-track position, while saying things like, “see, I applied for lots of jobs and research funding I didn’t get, but, in the end, all that hard work paid off. You’ll make it, too; just stick with it.”

I stopped doing that a little while ago. Currently, I put my rejection letters straight into the paper shredder. I now prefer that immediate catharsis. I think it may have something to do with the fact that I’m starting to wonder if my fantasy T-T position will simply remain just that: a fantasy. There are a lot of wonderfully talented and smart folks out in the world looking for academic jobs… and those jobs are just not so easy to come by anymore. I don’t write this from a position of cynicism; clearly, this is a reality for the vast majority of early career academics, some of who are struggling to find academic work of any kind. This leads into a broader discussion of whether on not PhD programs can or should be revised to reflect this “new normal” that I’m not going to delve into more deeply, here, but feel free, readers, to comment.

Some rejection letters hurt more than others. The one that I received yesterday hit me harder than usual. I think that when one really invests time and energy and passion into an application, one can’t help but fall in love with the idea of getting that job or that nicely funded research opportunity. Who likes unrequited love? (Answer: nobody.)

An academic rejection letter can feel like the relationship version of the “It’s not you, it’s me” speech. Despite the many times I have been advised, and have given the advice, to not take it personally, academic rejection can still be a tough pill to swallow—and I’m just not sure how useful the advice to not take it personally really is. It feels like one essentially tells another person, “…that way you’re feeling? Yeah, just don’t feel that way.” Thanks!

The fact is, one can know a thing, intellectually (e.g. “I should not take this personally”), but that rarely changes the actual feeling of rejection. I think what does help are the tiny rituals that people develop around their rejection letters. That’s why, in my world, the blades of the paper shredder will be whirling later on today.

How do you deal with rejection? Do you save your letters? Burn them? How do you find catharsis?

1 comment:

  1. I used to think it was funny to save my rejection letters, when I was on the job market during my PhD. But it soon became not funny. Especially the ones that arrived 11 months after I'd applied for something.

    I'm not applying for jobs anymore, but I do apply for conferences and submit publications for review, and since my work has become so much more interdsciplinary lately, I get a lot more rejections. Except now that I have a side project on knowledge mobilization and interdisciplinarity, I save all my rejects and awful reviews to use in my teaching as examples of disciplinary gatekeeping.

    Making lemonade since 2008 ....

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