I grew up in a small town where I was a big fish in a small pond. I went to a private school, applied and got accepted into my top choice schools. I went to college, applied to grad school straight from undergrad, got accepted to all the schools I was interested in, and graduated Magna cum Laude.
Nonetheless, the second I walked into graduate school I realized that rejection would soon become my new way of life.
In an academic job market that continues to shrink, I decided to pursue a PhD. My courses were extremely intense and I had to work harder than I ever had to. I have always been fine with this, but graduate school becomes less and less fun when you are also trying to juggle multiple things at the same time such as applying to a billion grants, teaching positions, conferences, fellowships, spots in journal articles, extra funding, and “real” jobs. I quickly realized just how difficult it was to accept rejection…and it still is.
I won’t lie accepting rejection as a part of your job is beyond difficult. There is nothing like that feeling of wanting something so badly and then having to face the fact that there was a better candidate out there. Some people are lucky enough to never know what it is like to be on the side of rejection, but most of us do. I wish I could say I have mastered rejection, but I still have not. Four years in grad school and rejection continues to make me feel incompetent. However, there are a number of things you learn from rejection:
- It’s not you, it’s them: Sure, this seems like something your friend tells you after your boyfriend breaks up with you, but it’s true. Sometimes committees have a hard time expressing what they want exactly. I have encountered this in a number of conference descriptions. Academics sometimes think that they’re being clear, but a lot of times they’re not.
- Seek help:This one should be obvious, but it’s not for some. Ask your advisor, a friend you trust, the Writing Center, the neighbor, your cat…just a s k. This is extremely helpful and does not waste your time or the committee evaluating your application. I also recommend asking the committee about any questions you may have! They are always more than happy to respond.
- Reject Impostor Syndrome: It is so hard to recognize that you are actually quite capable of fulfilling your goals, but I have learned to (try to) reject impostor syndrome. You are in graduate school!! They chose YOU out of hundreds of applicants. The professors in your department believe in you!
- Get over it (???): You might be thinking, Hmm…okay, Patricia. That’s not helpful advice, but, trust me! The sooner you accept your rejection, the sooner you’ll get over it! Of course, it sounds a lot easier than it it, but it is quite possible
While this may not have been the most optimistic post about graduate school, it should serve as an indication to the current struggles of academia. With Humanities departments closing all over the country, the threat of the end of abstract thought seems near. Nonetheless, I still see the efforts of extremely qualified graduate students across all departments in the College of Letters and Sciences. My friends and acquaintances work incredibly hard in their courses and their dissertations. It makes me incredibly sad to see them apply for these jobs that they are incredibly qualified for and get rejected over and over again.
There doesn’t seem to be a good outlook on the future of the Humanities, but…for now, I relish in my work, try to enjoy it and tell myself, “It’s not you, it’s them”