A while ago I submitted a proposal to present at a major conference regarding some of my current work and research. I had been working on the proposal for a few weeks; I had asked for feedback from colleagues, did plenty of literature search to further my theoretical framework, and I made sure I covered the areas the Call for Proposals asked for. I submitted it with fingers crossed; I was hoping my proposal would not go into the abyss of technology, never to be seen again because it was lost in some server in the middle of nowhere. I also hoped that reviewers weren’t sitting around a mahogany table, laughing at my proposal as if it was a joke, literally and figuratively ripping it to shreds. We’ll see what happens I told myself.
About a few weeks ago right before my morning workout, I got an e-mail from the conference about my proposal. We’re sorry to inform you…
I really didn’t need to read the rest of the e-mail, as the first sentence pretty much summed up the rest of the message. The rest of my day went in stages, kind of like when you go through grief or denial:
- Sorrow: “Aw man, I can’t believe they rejected my proposal! I worked so hard on that!”
- Frustration: “What the hell were they thinking? I gave them everything they wanted! What else did they want?”
- Anger: This came when I read the reviewers’ comments at the bottom of the e-mail
- More Anger: I read more of the comments at the gym…ended up maxing out at the bench press
- Unconsciousness: Keeping the blender on frappe for 15 minutes when I got home from the gym
- Solitude: Sitting in my office, contemplating why my proposal got rejected
- Resolve: “You know what, they’re going to miss out on my awesome work. I’m going to get ready for next year’s conference”
- Soreness: “Yeah, I probably shouldn’t have lifted my entire body mass at the bench press…”
I’ve been a reviewer for conferences before and I know how difficult it can be to look at someone’s work and make a judgment call on whether a presentation will be beneficial to the field. It can look exciting, sound like it would be fun to attend, but you have to gauge whether it would be prudent to offer it at a major convention when time and space is a priority. While I wasn’t happy with the review, I don’t envy the reviewers’ task at all.
While I understand it is difficult, it does very little to take away from the disappointment of being rejected. I spent some time wondering whether my topic wasn’t interesting or is so “out there” that it wouldn’t be relevant to most professionals. Most likely it was the way I presented my topic and not the topic per se. I had to get over the “they don’t care about the work” feeling and realize this wasn’t the exact moment to show off my work. Rejection is a very humbling experience that we need to stay grounded and not get our heads in the clouds.
This experience was an eye-opener for me personally and professionally; I hate failure and I got a big bite of it. It only served to learn from the experience and get better for the next one. I also had to remember this won’t be the only time where I can speak about my work in a professional setting. Case in point: I had a manuscript submission approved the same week I got rejected for the presentation above…funny how that worked out.