Awhile back I wrote about how I obsessively applied to every opportunity that I was even remotely eligible for and tracked my success and failures over the years. I know that part of the problem with applying for things comes from a disbelief that you could actually be selected for something. That might come from imposter syndrome, stereotype threat, or low self esteem. I have a few thoughts on handling rejection based on my experiences.
Tip #1: Track
Tracking all of my successes and failures took rejection from a vague, emotional thing from reading that dreaded phrase “we received many applications from qualified applicants” etc into something numerical. I tracked not only applications with results, but also pending applications, and I wrote down the things I planned to apply for. So another mark in the rejection pile is just a tally amidst a bunch of tallies, not that serious.
Tip #2: Don’t have a hierarchy
Some things I applied for were less competitive, like giving a presentation. Others are very competitive, like postdoc fellowships. Most things I have no idea how competitive they were: grants, scholarships, travel awards. That totally depends on who you’re competing with. Maybe few people found out about the opportunity? That is a very real possibility, especially as you get better at finding things to apply to. A lot of stuff gets promoted on Twitter, and I’ve met many an academic who doesn’t like Twitter. My PhD university was *awful* at promoting opportunities, and I’m sure that varies by university.
My point is – hierarchies about what opportunity is better than others are bullshit. Sure, a graduate or postdoctoral fellowship might go further to making your career than a travel award, but ultimately? Who knows. That travel award might get you that network connection, or speaking invitation (still waiting on that, btw), or find you a future employer. So the sooner you can stop caring, the sooner you can stop beating yourself up for not being successful in precisely the way you think you should be – is it possible success just means whatever you currently aren’t? Because the grant success rate is like 17%, and you know a bunch of people are hogging up several grants, so 10% is probably fantastic.
Tip #3: Make a blacklist
Making a blacklist is THE most satisfying decision I’ve ever made. I have a gmail label that is black with black text. If someone fields my email (and follow-up emails), or doesn’t bother to tell me I was rejected – they’re blacklisted. If somehow I feel really confident that I should have gotten the award, and it went to someone less deserving or an internal applicant – I might not apply there again. Will it ever matter to them? Probably not. But I’m taking the power back, and it feels good.
Tip #4: Keep a record of your success
You’ve probably heard this one a million times. Keep an email folder with all the nice emails, successes, and achievements you’ve gotten. Update your CV regularly, and look at all you’ve accomplished. Maybe you track your applications like I do – look at how much you’ve worked, and how much you’ve achieved. Think about all the people who you’ve helped via volunteering, outreach, students, mentees – and if you haven’t, then start now! You can’t be rejected from helping other people (as far as I know).