Thoughts on rejection and Graduate School… or “go on, brush your shoulders off”... or “mark my words! one day!” or how to reject their rejection (in yo face!)
In Graduate School you will be rejected a lot. (Actually I’ve heard this is academia in general - something to look forward toooooooo.) You will be rejected by fellowships, jobs, grants, committees, drafts of dissertation chapters, by journals, by conferences, by book publishers, by people who think your research is bunk, etc. Most of the advice you get will be:
It’s probably good advice, but now that I am coming in to my “end in sight” years of Graduate School I would like to impart the wisdom I have learned about what happens when you get rejected and how to handle it. Mostly because this helps me to deal with my latest rejection.
Today I was rejected from one of these part time jobs working in a field that I already have a graduate degree in and have been doing for the past five years (I was not even invited for an interview). After I got the email explaining that “while we know rejection usually feels personal” or something like that, I deleted it, crawled into my bed and litch-rally called out the words “I quit” while burying my head under a pillow.
I waited for something, inspiration, the voice of my Grandmother telling me to grow a pair and to stop feeling sorry for myself, some kind of reminder that this is not the rejection that will break me and mark my words one day all of these jerks will WISH they had invited me for an interview. But… nothing. The tiny little voice inside of me that usually tells me what everyone else will tell me later when I text or talk to them wasn’t there. The room was silent, the bed was comfortable, there was a breeze coming from the open window. It became obvious to me that I’m supposed to be in bed… forever. This will probably be the first step in your rejection of their rejection process. That's what I'm calling it...
The Step By Step Guide to Reject Their Rejection!
A quick and easy way for graduate students to reject the rejections of Graduate School so that we can all continue on together as crazy people who really like studying and researching about those things we really like studying (and then telling other people why that stuff we study is so important).
(1) First, take this rejection personally. How can you not? They want you to live, breathe and sleep your research. They want you to make it a huge deal and present on it at every second. They want it to be a book, and some papers, and articles and they want other people to review it and they want all this to happen while they pay you very little money to also teach and guide undergraduate students through introductory courses -- so how can you NOT take it personally when you get rejected.
If you are the best in the west (which they want you to want to be. they want you to crave it and clamour for it and reach for it, whatever it is. reach for the ceiling but we won’t tell you if you are close or if you could ever actually reach that ceiling, also everyone’s ceilings might be different heights, also there may not even be a ceiling…) then when you get rejected that means you are in fact not the best in the west, in fact, you are probably just average which is the worst (worse than being the worst, because at least when you are the WORST you can only really move UP).
Don’t deny how personally you take it. That’s the first piece of advice. (Don’t let this overtake you, however, and lead to things like broken computers, or hastily written tweets…) Let yourself feel rejected. And then crawl into your bed and say “I quit.”
(2) Now comes the fun part. This is the part where you become obsessed with other people who have already gotten the thing that you applied for and were not rejected. You can usually google them. You can read about their projects or their qualifications and you can realize that you are so much better than them.
(2a) Then you’ll go back and read your application. You’ll think “who are these crazy people who read this application and didn’t see the genius and importance of the work or the genius and importance of me?!” One of my favorite things to do is imagine the people who have “rejected” me and create a profile for them in my head:
Middle aged, no children, up tight, struggling to make a name for themselves, and they see an up and coming youngin’ who is way ahead of where they were and they mostly want to strangle this up and coming graduate student or hand them a poison apple. REJECTED. And this makes them feel better until they read the next application. UGH another REALLY AWESOME GRADUATE STUDENT -- REJECTED. Oh look, here is an application for a student who sounds just like me. Accepted.
(3) Now, text your best friend. If you don’t have a best friend (understandable, maybe your best friend thinks you got lost in a black hole…) text your academic best friend (these are those people who are also in Graduate School which means you speak a special language of “what are we doing here?!”). Your text should be beyond venting, it should be raw and emotional and personal and full of auto correct mistakes.
Here’s a template for you if you have JUST found out the news and skipped steps 2 and 2(a):: Sooooo, just got REJECTED by (insert name of institution/ group that rejected you) which just means that it is officially time to give up on everything I have ever done because it is obviously crap, crap I tell you!
Here’s a template for you if you went through all the steps and you are ready to move on to being just kind of angry: Sooooo, just got REJECTED by (insert name) and I’ve decided that they are the worst institution ever to be created and it explains so much about the state of (insert what they do). # (yes, hashtag) WhatTheF
Now wait. Your BFF (or academic BFF) will write you back and say…
“Boo. Boo on them.”
And later “You are so much better than them.”
Man, rejection doesn’t change does it. It was the same thing when some guy said he’d call and didn’t call. And it was true then - just like it’s true now - BOO ON THEM.
Type. Type everything. Work on whatever comes to your head. Now you want to work on grading some papers. Oh, you’ll grade some papers. No you want to finally put together that presentation, yeah you will. There’s nothing to stop you now. It’s not like you have paper work to do for your fellowship/job/acceptance you didn’t get.
Type. This surge of energy will make it less painful to sit in front of a screen. And then you’ll crash.
(5) Get sad and quit again. That’s right. Don’t worry, it’s normal. It will all come flooding back and you’ll think “who am I fooling with my exceptionally fast typing and genius thoughts? I am nobody. I am rejected.”
You will want to crawl back in to bed. You will prepare yourself by getting a bottle of water and some kind of high fat, high sugar, high cholesterol, high spice snack. Everything tastes better when you are trying to avoid dropping it on your sheets. It’s even better when you stop caring.
You will shuffle your way toward the bedroom and then your BFF will send you this…
And you will laugh and maybe cry and maybe laugh some more. And that’s when you will reach the very last step of the reject their rejection process.
(6) Go outside. (But I’m reading this in January and it’s a snow-pocalypse outside!)
Go… outside. Play this song. (But… it’s… Katy… Perry…)
Close your eyes and listen. (Katy….Perry?)
Don’t think. (Have you met me? I’m a graduate student! I think for a modest, meager living!)
It’s Katy Perry so you don’t have to think.
Let your body feel all the air and coldness or warmth and your lungs breathe in and out and in and out. Feel the air inside of you. Don’t think. Take a moment.
Do you feel that? (What is that?)
That… is… real… life.
Go on… brush your shoulders off.
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About This Blog:
This is the stuff I do to survive Graduate School.
It's also other stuff I do in life.
My life is mostly Graduate School.
Cutcha RIsling Baldy is a PhD Candidate in Native American Studies at UC Davis.