Learning to Love (Rejection)

Feb. 27, 2018

“What I have found,” a graduate student recently told me, “is that I like rejections. They are a chance to learn, a path forward.”

Just to be clear, this student had had a few days to contemplate his most recent rejection; I imagine that this was not his first reaction to the news. Additionally, he had received a beautiful rejection with all sorts of accolades for his work accompanied by very concrete suggestions for improvement.

The season of fellowship rejections approaches. The unfortunate reality of my line of work is that the vast majority of the students with whom I work will not receive the fellowship to which they apply.

Rejection is inevitable if you apply for funding, but graduate school is a precarious state in life which is normally filled with all kinds of self-doubt and questioning. So if a rejection is sending you into a spiral of doubt, remember that this is all a normal part of the process. And there is, as the student with whom I was talking found, good reason to love rejections (at least from fellowships).

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  1. Give yourself a break. Not a break to read some articles you have been meaning to get to, but a real break to remind yourself that you are more than an academic. Go to the gem show to people watch (https://www.visittucson.org/visit/events/featured-tucson/tucson-gem-mineral-fossil-showcase) . Walk Tumamoc Hill (http://tumamoc.arizona.edu/) with a friend. Visit the UA turtle pond or the secret Star Wars thingy. . . You get the idea.
  2. Revisit the application. If you are so lucky as to get reviewer comments, read, really read, the feedback. Make notes about anything that you now realize that you should have done differently or anything that is confusing to you.
  3. Regroup. Stay tuned for next month’s article, “What to do when the funding doesn’t come through,” for more suggestions about this.
  4. Share your rejection. Talk about it with professors and fellow grad student who will be helpful. Discuss your plan for moving forward.
  5. Jump back in the saddle. Although the fall is the season for many national fellowship competitions, many on campus units such as colleges and departments have fellowships with due dates in the spring. Also, other campus units have upcoming deadlines. The Tinker, for research in Latin America is due in March and GPSC has a travel deadline in April and research deadlines in February, March, and April. These small grants are worth your effort.

Regardless of what you will do after graduate school, grant writing is a useful tool to have in your back pocket. Like any skill, it takes practice. Keep at it!

The GradFunding Newsletter is a service of the University of Arizona Graduate College, Office of Fellowships and Community Engagement. You may reuse this article but please acknowledge Shelley Hawthorne Smith and the University of Arizona Graduate College Office of Fellowships and Community Engagement.

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