The resilient researcher

Is it just me, but in the last few years everything seems to have got really hard. It’s become particularly hard to get research funding, as the economic climate worsens and funds get squeezed, pots of money become more elusive and bidding more competitive. Already this year I’ve had three funding proposals rejected, and it seems sometimes that I’m in a constant cycle of writing and rejection.

Of course it’s not all bad news, every now and then we get a successful bid, and everything is good again. However, these instances are few and far between: our research office reckons that, on average, for every twelve bids submitted, one will be successful. Add to that the peer-review publication process, job and promotion applications, and that’s an awful lot of rejection. It seems to me that the most important skill a researcher needs these days is not creativity, critical thinking, or astounding insights. It is simply the resilience to manage the inevitable grind of submission and rejection, and to maintain confidence and a sense of humour during the process.

I have a number of techniques and strategies for dealing with this:

  1. Always have more than one project, idea, publication, etc. on the go at the any time. When I get a rejection, I take a break, stand back and do something else for a while.
  2. Try to learn something from every submission, particularly the failures, making sure that I always request feedback, and take it on board next time.
  3. Do not to give up on a good idea. I used to bury failed proposals, but now I use them as sources of inspiration and ideas, even if not as a whole, I can often bits reuse elements.
  4. Have a Plan B before Plan A goes wrong. So that it doesn’t seem like going right back to the beginning, I try to have an alternative funder, publication, etc. in mind when I submit, so that I can see failure as part of a process rather than an end point.
  5. Talk to other people to reassure myself that it really isn’t just me, it’s a hard process, and everyone has to deal with rejection. Reminding myself that it really is ‘just a job’ is helpful too.
  6. If the above all fail, a bottle of wine and a good cry usually hit the mark.

I’d be really interested to know if this is just me, and how others in the same situation manage to stay sane.


Nic Whitton

3 thoughts on “The resilient researcher

  1. Nic – You’re definitely not alone – bullett point 6 seems good (minus the good cry) for a bank holiday weekend.

  2. Pingback: Surveying the Wreckage – On funding and rejection | ESRI Blog

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