One of the hardest aspects of a life in research is dealing with rejection. It happens to me a lot. Papers, grant applications, expressions of interest, applications to join panels. It always has, right through from my earliest days as a PhD student up to the present when I am fortunate to be a senior academic with millions of pounds of funding and over a hundred papers behind me. So how do we cope?
1. If it doesn’t hurt then that isn’t natural. Rejection is an unpleasant experience. Go home and shout at the cat, kick the wall, stand on the beach and scream. Get it out of your system in whatever way suits you best. Make sure that whatever you do, you do it immediately and get the hurt, frustration and anger out of your system.
2. Now do it again. Repeat until no longer necessary.
3. Learn from the experience. There is almost some sort of feedback provided with the rejection and 90% of the time it is useful feedback. The majority of referees make helpful comments that give you the opportunity to improve the paper. If it simply a matter of rephrasing or doing some more statistical analysis, this is not too bad. Sometimes more experiments or observations are needed, which is more of a challenge, but at least you are left knowing exactly how to make your work publishable.. The other 10% of the time the feedback will be unjust, draconian, outrageous and/or stupid. If this is the case you may need to go back to step 1.
4. On the occasions that there is no feedback, you need to try and think through the decision from a different angle. You put your manuscript together carefully, painstakingly and devoted much time to the process. The journal rejected it without even sending it out for reviewers comments, and perhaps came back to you stating that it had achieved a low priority rating. What does this mean? At JHND for example, and this will apply to all high quality journals, we receive many more manuscripts for consideration than we could possibly publish and at the moment approximately 70% are rejected (of which perhaps half receive a decision without review). The editorial team have to prioritise the manuscripts of highest quality and those which will also be of interest to the widest possible sector of our international audience. Our priority has to be papers which truly advance knowledge and understanding of nutrition and dietetic practice. Perhaps your manuscript was rejected because, although of huge interest to you, it was just too limited in scope and unlikely to ever be read or cited by anyone else. Maybe you use, often for good reasons (I often get this thrown at my own papers), methods which are not “gold-standard” for the discipline. The most likely explanation is that you just chose the wrong journal. The International Journal of Obesity, for example, is unlikely to publish a paper that is not about obesity!
5. Don’t give up! Submit somewhere else having taken on board the feedback you have received or inferred. Keep refining and trying to find an outlet for your paper. Some of my papers which have proved highly cited and influential took a long time and many attempts to get them published (I think my record is 7 submissions to 7 different journals).
Good luck with your research and may your rejections be kind and few.