college · productivity

Handling Academic and Professional Rejection

I don’t know anyone who likes rejection. Accepting rejection can be difficult, and it’s hard not to take a rejection personally. When I get rejected, I think, “What could I have done to to get accepted?” or “What’s wrong with me? Why didn’t they accept me?” One of my biggest problems is comparing myself to people who did get accepted for what I was rejected for. I think about how much better that other person is at every single thing I have ever done, and I generally bring myself into these terrible thought spirals of low self-esteem.

Then it hit me: Rejection happens to everyone. Your friends, your role models, your professors with PhD’s, professional actors, athletes, millionaires… But it is still difficult to handle rejection. Now that it’s Valentine’s Day, I thought that writing about handling rejection would be pretty topical. Negative feelings surrounding rejection are valid, and here are some tips on how to handle feelings around academic and professional rejection.

Talk it out with a mentor.I recently got rejected for a national conference near my college that would have been a great opportunity for me. I was upset, but when I spoke to a mentor about it, he helped me find other opportunities and conferences where I could submit my research. As an aspiring academic, I have a lot more rejection ahead of me—I won’t get into every grad school program, I won’t get every grant, every postdoc, every job… Oddly, this was a comforting thought. I was rejected for a major opportunity and yet… everything was fine. My mentor told me that he had faced plenty of rejection as an undergrad, a grad student, and even as a professor. Talking to a mentor helped me understand that I have to roll with the punches and keep at it.

Fill out more applications and continue being productive. There are always going to be more opportunities—you simply have to find them and try. Don’t let the fear of rejection get in the way of shutting yourself off from other great opportunities. And on the bright side once you’ve filled out one application (even if you were rejected), it gets easier filling other applications out: your recommenders have a base letter of recommendation for you and you have a personal statement that you can take from and edit for your new applications.

Make backup plans. Sometimes we are so intent on one path that we close ourselves off from other ones. For example, I am intent on applying for summer research opportunities, but if I only rely on those opportunities and I get rejected, I wouldn’t have anything else to do this summer. It is important to diversify the opportunities you open yourself up to. In addition to summer research programs, I am also applying to summer jobs: internships and jobs on campus.

Go to the professional development or career center on your campus. Many campuses provide career centers. They can help you tailor your curriculum vitae (CV) or resume to a particular job, internship, or summer program you want to apply to. They can also help you advertise yourself as a great candidate and do mock interviews so that you can nail it the next time you apply for something.

Work on projects you are passionate about. Not dwelling on rejection and keeping your mind off of it is a powerful tool. Passion projects, such as writing or drawing, can help you keep your mind off of the rejection, and they can help you be productive. Getting your creative juices flowing can help prepare you for your next application as well.

Academic or professional rejection is never an easy thing to accept. Some important things to do when you have been rejected is to not take it personally and process it with a mentor, and to keep working and not give up after some academic and professional rejections. Follow my blog for more college life advice!

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