I received a nice rejection letter today for a paper I submitted to a conference. In my career, I know there will be many, many more rejections to go along with the acceptances. This rejection even came with very helpful feedback about what I needed to do differently. All in all, it’s the best kind of rejection one could get since it stood a chance of leading me to a better result.
But, at the same time, it still felt really crummy. Deep down I know that the reviewers of this journal have incredibly high standards and that lots of people vie for a limited amount of space. There must be winners and losers. But the feedback gives me the opportunity to regroup, improve and perhaps resubmit my work and get accepted next time (or the time after that…)
At the same time, I’ve been working with a team to implement peer reviews. One member of the team called the reviews a hazing, like it was some rite of passage and when you’d gotten through a few you’d be in the club and not have to do it anymore. Not so. Peer reviews aren’t like hazings, because they never end. The reality is that members of this team (and any team who regularly does serious reviews) will be subjected to endless rejections. No matter how many times it happens, it’s going to feel not great.
Should we stop doing it? Should the journal simply accept any paper submitted to avoid hurting the authors’ feelings? No, of course not. Should we stop doing reviews simply because it may result in someone having to rework their analysis, design or code? Again, of course not.
Being rejected is unpleasant, and I doubt giving it some euphemism like “deferred success” is going to fix that. We shouldn’t give up on having high standards for our work simply because being the recipient of bad news feels, well, bad. Nor should we give it up because delivering bad news is uncomfortable.
At some point, we have to learn to live with being rejected. I don’t think we’ll ever like being rejected unless of course, failure was consciously or unconsciously our plan all along. But we can learn to accept it as a natural course towards improving our work and ultimately being able to be proud of the quality of the result we created.