Thought I’d start this one off with a nod to Bob Marley, since a little reggae always soothes my FL girl soul. When I had my first baby, I realized I knew very few lullabies. So “Three Little Birds” it was. Baby loved it, and so did I.

Fighting Rejection Lesson #1: Don’t worry. About a Thing. Cause every little thing’s gonna be alright. Take a breath and…

Image by bertvthul from Pixabay

Lesson #2: Stop to take care of you. Maybe it’s reggae, maybe it’s forest bathing. Whatever it is, do that small thing that proclaims, out loud, that you matter and deserve kindness.

Rejection isn’t a thing we typically showcase. But I’m not typical, so here we go. Shortly after I started as an Assistant Professor, I had my second baby. The pressure was on to fund the lab, so I sacrificed a good chunk of my maternity leave to work on submitting two (totally distinct) grant applications. My brand-new daughter was literally napping strapped to my chest while I furiously typed and I was, well, tired. But I did it. I submitted them both. I freely admit, the second application was not my best work. But the following reviewer critique still felt unnecessarily harsh for a K01 applicant. “It is unclear if the investigator has the potential to develop as an independent and productive researcher…[etc.].” Cue the ugly cry and self doubt. My 3YO son saw Mommy crying and instinctively hugged me, which helped SO MUCH. Which brings me to:

Image by Westfale from Pixabay

Lesson #3: Regain perspective by focusing on the “big things” in life. Do you have family/friends/pets who love you? Were you healthy enough to get out of bed today? Then you are still winning, my friend. Go ahead, cry it out for a bit. But tomorrow is a new day, one you shouldn’t squander ruminating too much over Reviewer comments.

Lesson #4: Three reviewers is a small sample size. Don’t let that bias bias you.

Of note, in the same K01 summary statement, another reviewer said, “The candidate has very strong potential to become an independent researcher.”

Image by Schäferle from Pixabay

Fast forward a few years to my third (yes, third) R01 summary statement: “This reviewer’s perspective is that this proposal is exactly what an ESI/NI’s plan should look like to launch their research program.” Tears of joy this time.

Lesson #5: Remember the grit that got you here in the first place and chase your dream until you catch it. With dirt in your eye and sweat on your back. Chase it. But not at the expense of the Big Things (see Lesson #2).

Lesson #6: Revisit past success. When I was a PhD student, I had my B.S. degree hanging on a wall. Any time I doubted myself, I’d look at it and remind myself I was Someone Who Accomplishes Things. The other grant baby and I submitted? It got funded. For more money.

Lesson #7: Take that uppercut Reviewer 2 lands on you and learn from it. Dodge it next time. Ask mentors or peers to help you figure out when you’re ducking left instead of weaving right like you should be. If Reviewer 2 hit below the belt, don’t own it, just shake it off.

Lesson #8: See yourself through someone else’s eyes. Did someone hire you? If so, do you think he/she is a fool who knows nothing? No? Then trust their assessment and quit beating yourself up. Odds are if they thought you were a talentless hack, you wouldn’t be sitting in your current chair.


I hope some of this helps. And if it doesn’t, Google image “calming manatee memes”. Pop some flip flops on and play a little Bob Marley. Don’t make me come serenade you!

More Resources

Responding to Manuscript Reviews While Avoiding Cerebral Aneurysms

More Friendly Advice: When Rejection Isn’t Really Rejection


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Bessie A. Young says:

Wow! Thanks Rachel. Your pearls of wisdom are awesome! Thank you for sharing!

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