Caitlin Kirby, a doctoral candidate in environmental science and policy, at Michigan State University, went to her thesis defence, wearing a skirt made of 17 rejection letters. She had received these from other PhD programs, scholarships, and academic journals where she had hoped to get articles published. Her skirt was handmade, and in a way, she wore her failures; something that we are often afraid to even discuss in detail. Caitlin eventually received a 2019 Fulbright Fellowship, and is going to Germany for a research project.
Sir Peter John Ratcliffe is best known for his work on cellular reactions to hypoxia, for which he shared the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, with William Kaelin Jr. and Gregg L. Semenza. He is one of the greatest minds in Physiology and Medicine today. We, the common people, generally look up to such people and subconsciously want to achieve the same level of success. Of course, we get bogged down by the challenges of our daily lives, especially when we belong to a third world nation.
Hold on a moment, because this may not be true. Yes, structural factors play a role, but that’s not the whole story. Sir Ratcliffe’s success has not come in the same trajectory; he has also seen ups and downs, and significant failures (which later turned out not to be failures). Below is the rejection letter sent to him by Nature magazine. Did he stop after that? He might have, but he did not. He kept working and finally has been awarded the most promising prize in his field.
We, (my friends), – be it Sukant Khurana, (who has published extensively), Ranjit Dehury, (sometimes shares his challenges), Neelmani Jaiswal, (never give up guy), Wakar sir, (humble, established author, yet stuck in structural challenges), Satyendra Bhai, (“efforts pay off sooner or later” person) or Abhijit, (who has just co-authored his first academic article with me) and I – all share this concern: of being rejected. The question of being rejected when trying hard to answer a researchable problem. Do we give up? Sometimes. Sometimes we even leave the idea and move on to the next, best one. Is it the best way? Probably not.
I have had my share of rejections, multiple actually, sometimes they hurt badly. I go for long walks; that helps. My co-authored article on “Food Security in Gaza Strip in relation to adolescents’ health” which I was very hopeful for, was rejected. Later, I half-heartedly converted it into a newspaper article format, because by keeping it to myself, I might not have conveyed the idea to the world. Though, newspaper articles have lesser value in the academic world (yes, lesser!)
Another article that is published now, (with Sukant being the lead author), was rejected several times, despite its high value, originality, and novelty. I was nervous due to the delays; however, with many ups and downs, it was finally accepted and published. The whole process was extended to approximately one and a half years.
I am yet to complete my PhD and am in the process of writing a few more articles, applying for better scholarships, and hoping to get a well-paid job in the near future.
Let it all just sink in for a moment.
Because from these stories, what I have learned is that for me, the bottom line is “never give up”. (Oh, I know it’s hard!)