The sting of rejection
David Speijer: I love working as a scientist. In this profession one gets to do advanced laboratory experiments, interact with colleagues and students driven by a thirst for knowledge, and sometimes partake in advances with regard to understanding reality. Now, the “partaking” is of course limited (if it happens at all), but that limitation is more than softened, I think, by the fact that scientists are in the unique position to follow cutting‐edge advances in our ever‐broadening conceptualization of what is “out there” (and “in here”, one might add). One of the nicer developments of the last decades has been the arrival on the scene of ever‐better science writers, opening up these dazzling opportunities to non‐scientists as well.
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So, is it all just great? Alas, no. I want to write about a common frustration, shared by many, but seldomly openly discussed. Many scientists (myself included) never completely learn how to cope with the rejection of their manuscripts. I still get that sinking feeling, even after having had my fair share of refusals (actually, whether it was “fair”, I am not in the best position to answer). Why does being rebuffed still sting? I remember an interview with the great violinist Gidon Kremer, who described his frustration at “only” being ranked third at the Belgian 1967 Queen Elisabeth Competition. It rankled because he felt he had made himself absolutely vulnerable, as the creative process required. Though many of us think that art and science have nothing to do with each other, science has many creative aspects. One such aspect we encounter in the sculpting of both text and figures before submission. Thus, it always feels personal to be turned down. This clearly comes across from a recent Nature Careers Podcast by Adam Levy. How do we then avoid going from “rejected” to “dejected”?
Speijer D. 2021: The sting of rejection. Bioessays 43: e2100028. DOI: 10.1002/bies.202100028