It is ludicrous that no one in life has ever faced rejection.
We all know that rejection is inevitable at any stage of our life – whether it is breaking up, not considered for a scholarship programme or university admission, not getting our dream job, not able to grab certain opportunities that lead to life changing path etc.
Rejection is so normal. But my rejection experience this time round – failure to get an academic paper through second round of reviewing process – is a wake-up call to construct a new normal to this dreadful but inevitable human experience.
It is rejection again for God knows how many times since I started to hop on the game of academic publishing. Yes, I am deeply and enormously aware that advancing in academia has always been an unfair game. As a junior researcher, you do all the hard work, suck up most of the crappy stuff, and do not necessarily get the most credit. And without guiding light, the trial and error process takes longer than one could imagine. At times, this process is so dreadful and fraught with diminishing returns to both your precious time and your self-esteem. And time and again, as a human who yearns to be happy and free, I continue to question why is it that I continue to worship publication? What makes me unable to withstand the powerful persuasion of the prevailing mantra surrounding all graduate students that ‘you have to publish in order to be marketable’?
Publication is essentially a process that subject ourselves to multiple times of vulnerability of failure. Each rejection means pushing us yet again to the verge of self-doubt, just to pinch yourself hard and call yourself to be aware that this rejection is not an indication of your talent and ability at all.
However, do we have to subscribe to this publish or perish mantra?
I remember when I decided to put up that application to the Chevening Program and University of Oxford four years ago, my heart was dying to get out of a job that no longer excites me, instead a process that feels dampening my spirit to learn and grow. I was already feeling disinterred with the mundane and repetitive administrative work that I already think can be and will be automated one day, instead of availing myself time to engage in more innovative projects, such as crafting new research projects that I could potentially conduct in order to push our practice to greater heights. I thought of going back to school again at that time. I yearned for intellectual stimulation so much after leaving HKU. And I thought it would be cool to have a doctorate to accumulate more credentials and legitimacy to apply for research grants when I am back to the same job.
However, over time, you feel swayed by the currents of striving for excellence all the time in order to perform and meet expectations, fundamentally, because we are all so afraid of losing out in the game, far from just being judged and being perceived lowly. Academia, at least, in where I am now, is a game for conformist. At least I still believe that no matter where you are, as a young academics, at the beginning, one has to be a conformist because that’s how the game works.
Time to stop rambling. Just have to pick myself up again, write that one appeal letter to defend what has been misconstrued by the reviewer. And then, think again, where we should be targeting our paper next to eventually find a home for a piece of work that has taken up so many hours of labour. The test for endurance and hard work can be more challenging than I first thought.