I guess it’s not surprising, given that I’ve written about failure in science, that I would write a post about rejection as well. Actually, I’m not so interested in writing about rejection as I am in hearing how people have learned to deal with it.
Academia is a strange workplace. It’s stocked with bright people who’ve been successful throughout their previous academic endeavours (with some exceptions*). For the most part, they haven’t faced too much criticism of their intellectual abilities. But in academia you will spend your career being questioned and criticized, in large part by your peers. You will constantly be judged (with every submitted manuscript, grant application, or tenure review). And this is the universal truth about academia: you will be rejected. And for some (many?) people, that's a difficult thing to accept.
Rejection may be so painful in part because it can be hard to interpret. After all, it’s an old trope that rejection is a normal part of academia. But how much rejection is normal, when is it just a numbers game and when is it a sign of professional failing? Let alone the fact that rejection depends on a shifting academic landscape where available funding, journal quotas, and research caliber are always changing. So I’m curious: does the ability to deal with rejection factor into academic success? Are some people, based on personality, more likely to weather rejections successfully, and does this translate into academic success? Or is the development of a thick skin just the inevitable outcome of an academic life?
*A couple of the people I know who are generally unfazed by rejections would say that they deal well with rejection because they weren’t particularly great students and so academic failure isn’t new or frightening to them.