I have learned to accept rejections.
Two years into my doctoral degree, I have had my share of rejected conference paper submissions. A classmate even asked me once how it felt to have a paper rejected because she had never experienced having one. Ouch. But I have learned to accept rejections. They are part of my academic experience, of my learning process, and sometimes even of my nightmares.
There is always a reason behind every rejection. No, I am not referring to reviews such as questioning a non-generalizable sample in a qualitative study. I am referring to a paper I presented in a conference last year in Peru, a paper that was previously rejected by another conference.
So what’s the reason behind that particular rejection?
1. I believe that rejections—at least for mortals like me who experience them—happen to make scholars persistent. When my paper got rejected, it broke my heart. But after sobbing—and I may not be exaggerating here—I went back to my computer, read my paper again, and reflected on what went wrong. I rewrote some parts. I added more literature. I ran more analyses. I revised the paper. And then revised it again. I rewrote some more sentences, some more paragraphs, and then some more sections, until I believed it has become unworthy of another rejection.
2. I believe that rejections happen to bring about surprises. When I learned about the call for papers from the World Communication Association for the 2011 conference in Peru, I took the chance. I have never joined WCA before. But the prospect of going to Peru was enough motivation. I have never been to Peru before. So I submitted my previously-rejected-now-improved paper and a few weeks later got a pleasant surprise: My paper was accepted.
3. I believe that rejections in one’s academic career can eventually bring people to places. In my experience, it literally brought me to Peru. I was destined to try sumptuous dishes such as ceviche (fresh seafood in lime sauce), pollo a la brasa (roasted chicken), and even anticucho (grilled beef heart). I was destined to drink chicha (sweet drink made of purple corn) and Inca cola (the most popular soda in Peru). Two necessary conditions allowed me to come to Peru. First, my school, the University of Missouri-Columbia, graciously gave me a travel grant enough to cover my pricey airfare. Second, I got a free place to stay, thanks to the nicest Peruvians I know, Dr. Bruno Takahashi (whom I first met in a conference in Singapore the previous year and who is now an assistant professor at Michigan State University) and his father Luis.
4. I believe that rejections can build and strengthen friendships. My friends in Mizzou consoled me when my paper was rejected. The same paper brought me to Peru and reunited me with a good friend. I also made new friends from countries I have never been.
5. Finally, I believe that rejections can lead to unforgettable experiences. And I don’t mean the heartbreak that comes with them, or even the laborious work of revising. In my experience, having that paper rejected, and choosing to improve the manuscript rather than wallow in misery, gave me precious memories (and wonderful photos for Facebook). I drove by the Andes Mountains on our way to Huaral and marveled at the sight of reddish peaks that glinted with the sun. I saw penguins and sea lions during our trip to Paracas and took photos of rock formations protruding from the pristine blue sea. Bruno, whose paper won best student paper, had the humor to nominate me for best student presentation. I now have a nice glass trophy to remind me of my visit.
In a system that privileges approval, rejections are always disappointing. But how we respond to them defines our experience.
I have learned to accept rejections. I have learned that there is always room to grow, a chance for improvement, and an opportunity to be better.
There is a reason behind every rejection, especially if you accept it not as an end but as a beginning: There are always new memories to create, more experiences to make, and lots of Facebook photos to take.
For me, there was Peru.