#OTalk Research – 2nd March 2021 – Are failure and rejection an inescapable aspect of research or an opportunity for learning?

Hi, my name is Sarah (@SLawsonOT) I am an occupational therapist, PhD Candidate and lecturer @GlyndwrOT. Before I begin I would like to say a huge thank you to Dr Jenny Preston (@Preston_Jenny) for her time, support and encouragement in writing this blog.

In this #OTalk Research I’d like to explore what often seems to be a taboo subject – failure and rejection within research. That feeling of disappointment that I’ve let myself and others down, that I did not present the best of myself, that I could have, should have done better, that I and my research is not good enough.  

Evidence based theories of interpersonal acceptance-rejection theory acknowledge that some people are better able to cope with experiences of perceived rejection than are other individuals (Rohner, 2016).  Rejection is frequently perceived as a rite of passage as we transition into research careers.   

Since I began my part time PhD in 2017, I’ve been inspired by people like @NHopUTS whose pinned Tweet is a picture of his office door with copies of all his rejection letters for everyone to see.  On his website (NickHop.wordpress) Nick also includes a whole section of blogs about rejection. Then I saw a tweet from @raulpacheco also talking about rejection.  

Like many others I know that I have experienced rejection and a sense of failure in many aspects of my life, jobs I applied for and didn’t get, failed relationships, failed exams and viva’s.  This also extends to my research career with abstracts rejected, an unsuccessful grant funding application, presentations that didn’t go as well as expected, or aspects of my research that have challenged me.  Just as we use our life experiences to learn, grow and build resilience, how can we access strategies and resources to help us cope within our research careers and activities?  It may take a while, and with a lot of reflection but how do we use our experiences of each failure/rejection to enhance our opportunities and deepen our understanding of ourselves as both a researcher and a person.

Whichever term you prefer to use, rejection, failure, disappointment, frustration are all common features of engaging in research but they are often the areas which are rarely, publicly talked about – not only in research but in any walk of life.

  1. What are your experiences of rejection or failure within research? 
  2. Thinking about your research, how do you overcome the rejection? Did you respond, if so how? What was the outcome? 
  3. How do you pick yourself back up and carry on? What strategies have you developed?
  4. What have you learnt from your experiences of rejection or failure within your research?
  5. What is your fear of rejection or failure stopping you from doing? 
  6. What are you going to now? When are you going to do it? Who can you contact for support? What is your plan? 


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