Dealing with disappointment

To me, one of the hardest things about being a scientist is dealing with the disappointment of rejected manuscripts, grant proposals and fellowship applications. Not to sound very annoying, but so far my life has been extremely smooth sailing. I was lucky enough to bicycle through high school (a literal translation of a Dutch expression meaning that it wasn’t too hard) and in the home country it’s also not hard to get into college when you’ve finished 6 years of high school. And the ‘prestigious’ Neuroscience Master’s program I went to had just started so you really only had to apply to get in that year (in the years that followed I might not have made the cut with my grades…). In conclusion, I did not have a lot of practice dealing with disappointment.

So the first time I applied for a fellowship at the beginning of my post-doc and it was rejected (without review comments) I cried,in the lab. I was heartbroken and felt really bad about it. Luckily my PI told me that he only got a grant on his fifth try and that made me feel a bit better. After that, 3 more grant/fellowship rejections followed (and a bunch of papers that got rejected). Every time I got a bit better in dealing with the disappointment. Now, I feel sad for a day, and then try to make my application better for the next time. I try to see the strong points that the reviewers point out as much as the weaknesses. Sometimes I let it sit for a couple more days and re-read the review comments.

However, what I still find really hard is anticipating disappointment. Right now, I’m about to hear whether I’m invited for an interview for my home country grant that will guarantee me a job in the home country. I would be ecstatic if I would get invited and heartbroken if I wouldn’t and I find it hard to just sit and wait until I get the email to tell me which it is.

So how do you deal with disappointment? By the way, heavy drinking is not an option when you’re pregnant and/or breastfeeding for most of the duration of your post-doc.


Filed under academia, grant writing, life in the lab, publishing papers

15 responses to “Dealing with disappointment

  1. Shopping!! Retail therapy always works. You don't get a grant, but you still get something, like a new pair of shoes! Also, you can read all 61 comments on my “everybody gets rejected” post, so you won't feel so alone in your disappointment.

  2. Oh I totally forgot about that post (even though I commented there myself ;-)..) Thanks for the reminder that it happens to all of us.

  3. Rejection in any sphere of life is difficult. I find as scientist we pour our hearts and souls into our work (and are definitely *not* in it for the money or glory) – so rejection can be crushing as the work is often an extension of who we are. As a woman scientist I feel particularly sensitive to the sacrifices I have made over the last decade+ to be where I am today, thus rejections always make me ask “Is this worth it? Have I made the right choice?”. Girlfriends or female mentors/colleagues make such a difference (for me personally) to help overcome the low after a rejection and keep going after my aspirations. There is nothing like a b*tching session over some totally delicious fatty foods or sweets to help get through a funk and on with life again. With or without the alcohol 🙂

  4. Thanks for your post. 🙂 It is extremely timely for me. I talked with my PI and he was very positive about it (it was the first submission, my application was discussed, my priority score was ok). I'm going to leave early today and enjoy time with Kiddo– and do some retail therapy.

  5. Rejection is really hard. During the last 5 years, I wrote 50 grants. After 2 initial successes, I had a string of 35 rejections, with 5 of the last 15 being successful. However, that ended up being too late for my tenure decision. After being turned down for tenure, having spent all that time and sacrificed YEARS of salary and retirement benefits, I felt like a failure. It was funny, because it also felt freeing. Luckily, I had 16 months to figure out my next career move. I spent 2-3 months listening to what my body told me, and I turned down a damn good job offer because I knew that was the wrong path. Listening to how I felt when I thought about different types of careers helped guide me to where I'm transitioning in August. That huge disappointment was a blessing in disguise, as it's leading me to my next career path (starting in August) that may be the best thing that I've ever done.

  6. Your tweet was the inspiration for this post ;-). It made me once again realize that I find this the hardest part of being a scientist. So many rejections that sometimes it's hard to see all the things to celebrate.

  7. I just expect rejection now. I am constantly delighted when that is not the case.

    Rejection is difficult for early career academics, because they often get into academia because they are good at this stuff. They were often one of “the smart kids” in school. They never confronted systematic rejection or failure…

    …. and then they hit grad school. I know of nobody who got through grad school without dealing with failure and rejection. It's the subtext in this post about working with trainees.

  8. This is going to sound pretty ridiculous but after I saw The Secret years ago, I feel that I need to expect success (and imagine how I would feel when that happens) in order to get a grant funded or a paper published. You may start laughing now.

  9. “I would be ecstatic if I would get invited and heartbroken if I wouldn’t and I find it hard to just sit and wait until I get the email to tell me which it is.”

    Right there with you. Sort of, waiting for that email to know if I passed my certification or not… I think I didn't but hope I did and I won't find out until later in June. alas, I try to shift it tothe back of the mind and not think about it until the email comes around.

    Then I will probalby beat myself up a little if I failed/rejected, maybe a tear or two, sulk and then go to the gym and work out so I get my endorphine kick and get the heavy bag with the disapppointment out of the body. Then home, eat nice dinner & ice cream (probably some wine) and then watch a happy movie. The day after read over the email/comments. Take it in, try and read the original proposal with “new eyes” and try and get the main points of what I missed. Then start over again and try not to second guess when sending in the next proposal a la goldfish memory ^^

    All this of course is what I want to be doing and strive to do. I'm still a work in progress 🙂

    Good luck with the wait. Try not to stress it since you can't do anything about it now.

  10. Yeah, this is particularly timely for me as well and I have no good way of dealing with it. I feel like dual career academics are even worse off in this regard, particularly when rejection happens to both partners at the same time. I'm hoping that dealing with rejection is yet another skill I will gain…

  11. Yes true. Husband and I are actually applying for the same fellowships mostly.

  12. Bashir

    Ha. The American version is to sail through things.

  13. I found this video to be very helpful on dealing with rejection (hang on through the beginning, what he says at the end is the best part): Also, rejection isn't necessarily your fault. An arbitrary group of people reviewed your application, and who knows why they didn't choose you. See this great study that just came out: As your advisor says, try again. You've been rolling winning dice, and you finally got a bad roll.

  14. Anonymous

    I deal with it by surfing to a babywearing/natural parenting forum, which is actualy how I got to be on this site. It's 2.30 AM in the homecountry now, and I am writing a grant proposal and revising two papers. The comments by reviewers and co-autors still feel like a blow to the head, I must say. Nice to here it gets better.

    Reading this was just what I needed so thank you.

    onemonkey 🙂

  15. 😉 Thanks for your comment!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s