Academics experience more rejection than almost any other profession. Perhaps only salespeople get turned down more often than academics: many of your papers and grant applications are likely to be rejected, perhaps more than once, before they are finally accepted or funded. This will especially be the case if you take the advice onboard that we offer in our workshops and training sessions and always try to preferentially submit your research papers to journals that have higher impact factors (IFs).
Targeting your journal submissions in this way is a good strategy to enhance your career; indeed, we recommend that you should ideally have a target journal in mind before you start to write. Better to publish fewer papers but in high-quality journals than many papers in lower-quality journals. Universities, national funding agencies, and assessment panels are looking for outputs and publications perceived as high-quality and high-profile, which is determined based on IF: how many people will have had the chance to read your paper because of circulation size.
Rejection happens. All the time. The important question is how can you manage this, and turn it into a positive to advance your career. Our Charlesworth Knowledge training programmes teach a range of techniques to build your career, including moving on from rejection.
A salesman once told me that ‘rejection is always positive’. And it’s true: effective salespeople have developed techniques to manage negativity in their professional lives as well as a level of confidence and self-belief that means they can quickly recover from ‘knock-backs’. A good salesperson will always have several ‘irons in the fire’, several ‘balls in the air’. And so should you. Write up your research efficiently and quickly, submit, and then move onto the next project: don’t sit back and wait for decisions to come to you on the papers you’ve submitted. You must have several papers on the go. Several projects in various stages of completion so that you can keep your publication rate ‘ticking over’, as they say.
At the same time, belief in your research – that it is of high quality and deserves to appear in leading journals – is one of the keys to success as an international researcher. Generating positivity and energy around your research and projecting this to others, in both written and spoken form, makes it much easier to present talks confidently at conferences, for example, as well as to write successful editorial responses to comments received in peer review. Our Charlesworth Knowledge training courses can help you learn these skills to advance your career.
We find that attitudes to rejection can vary depending on academic and cultural background. In some countries, PhD students and other early career researchers (ECRs) tend to be more confident in their own abilities and thus react more positively to negative comments on their work and journal rejection. Don’t be afraid of talking to editors and asking questions about negative decisions if you feel you have been unfairly treated, or that perhaps the reviewers of your paper did not have enough information or understanding to make a fair and informed decision. What’s the worst that can happen? Your paper has already been rejected, after all. A quick, polite, and constructive email to an editor might help a lot. ‘Dear editor, We feel that reviewer x did not provide a fair and balanced review of our work for <the following reasons>. Would you consider giving us another opportunity to explain the basis and results of our study?’, for example.
You don’t want to miss out on the chance to get your work into high-profile journals and, remember, one of the most important steps is having gotten the study out for review in the first place. As Winston Churchill once said ‘success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm’; this is especially true of academic research publishing!