Rejection: It’s Good for You

kartun-ikhwan-ditolak-akhwat-empowernetworkcomIn science, the possibility of rejection is quite high. You may not be given a lab position, your P.I. may not like your presentation, your grant may not be accepted, you may not get into a particular grad school, and the list goes on. During those moments — maybe even days or weeks — following a rejection , it may seem like time has stopped and that you have nothing else to contribute to the world.

That’s false.

You, as a budding scientist, have so much to contribute in the many years to come. The editors at MSURJ feel that the topic on rejection is a very special one as it is an experience that does not happen solely in science, but in life as well. Some (three!) of us have written short anecdotes on an experience of rejection. In the end, we grew from it and we moved on as wiser individuals, who, in spite of some stomach-sinking moments, have accomplished a lot.


My first freelance writing assignment was 400 words about scientists who hunt for aliens, for a glossy national mag. I interviewed four or five people, and delightedly wrote it quickly. My editor read it, ripped it up, and sent me out to look for a different angle. The piece became a chart, with bullet points. Rip. The piece became a narrative about the real life Ellie Arroway. Rip. The piece was a horrible list of pre-packaged press release quotes. Rip. Those four hundred words took over my life for a couple weeks, as I re-wrote, sent frantic emails chasing after new quotes. I ducked away from friends on my birthday to check my email, to see what the latest spin on my incompetence was.

The editor finally just assigned the piece to someone else. A few months later, standing in Paragraph books on McGill College, I read yet another, slightly tweaked version, under someone else’s byline. I learned nothing at the time (stubborn, newly 21, I think I ended up drinking terrible alcohol as a solution, which helped no one). But the editor who killed my story was fired a few months later, and as such my lesson was delivered: Sometimes, rejection doesn’t have all that much to do with you.


I went to a very competitive science and technology high school that had its own research program. Any student had the opportunity to create their own research project and then have it be presented at a local science fair. In the tenth grade, I thought I was destined for greatness with my project about lipid peroxide formation in skin cells. I was very confident that I would come back from this science fair with some accolades. But, the last judge of the night really tore me down. After an hour of her interrupting me as I described the research and having her tear apart these minor details in the project, she looked me dead in the eye and said “I hope you never pursue research any further because this was terrible.”

Completely distraught, I did not even enter the lab for a week after the science fair. But on one very stormy evening while watching old interviews of Richard Feynman, I realized that a true scientist is not selfish. He does not care about his own personal gain in science, though he cares for the development of his field and would, most likely, want the younger generation of future scientists to display an interest and just try. Feynman would never put down a 10th grade student at a local science fair in New Jersey. And with that, I realized that the judge was probably insanely bitter and could not find a better way to make herself feel better than to put someone else down. I worked hard for the next year’s fair and ended up getting first place in my category, some random bit of money from Scientific American, and was published in the In Vitro Biology annual magazine.


In my last year of high school, I was rejected from the 3 major scholarship applications I submitted. It was a bitter pill to swallow that was made easier by being spread over several months. I think the toughest part was seeing friends of mine receive these scholarships and trying to feel happy for them. When I think of rejection, I feel it suits situations where you genuinely expected to get what you wanted. In the scale of your lifetime, I think the best outlook is to realize that things sort themselves out in the end; hard working students will succeed no matter what university they attend or scholarship they win and quality research will (eventually) be paid attention to no matter where it is published.


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