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Rejections and Being Thankful for What We Have

Monochrome Spring


I haven't posted much recently, but I thought that I would throw out a recent reflection that I think could help a lot of applicants and current grad students.

Losing sucks. A lot. Not getting something we really want sucks. A lot. But life goes on.

I recently was awarded an Honorable Mention for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. This is a pretty big honor, as 16,000+ students apply each year. I know a few people who have applied multiple years and never even gotten that. But, of course I'm still bitter that I didn't get the full award. To make things worse, the other two students in my cohort were awarded.

This lead to a lot of feelings, including anger, embarrassment, and self-doubt. I feel like maybe I'm not good enough if everyone else can get it but I can't. I feel lied to by my peers when they said my application materials were the best in my cohort during review sessions. I feel jealous that the awardees will make $15-20k more than me and not have to work as a teaching assistant or graduate assistant.

I took all of yesterday to myself to get those feelings out, to scream, to cry, to vent. But life goes on, and today is a new day. I realized a lot of things about not winning the award, which can extend to a lot of future competitions in life. Yeah, I didn't get the award I wanted, but am I a worse person than before I found out the results? No. Actually, I still have another line on my CV to say that I got Honorable Mention. I still have feedback on my application that I can apply to other things in my career.

And the other people in my cohort who got the award are some of my closest friends here. So, at the end of the day, I'm happy that they have a higher stipend that will help them. One is going to buy a house with her new husband. Another can travel more, which is her biggest passion in life. And I'm not making any less stipend next year due to their win, so I should just be happy that something good happened to my friends.

As cliche as it sounds, I realized this morning that I have a lot to be thankful for. I still have a fellowship from my university. I still have another year to reapply for this national fellowship. I still got into an amazing program at only 20 years old and held my own against more experienced students. I still have an amazing partner who supports me in everything I do, completely unconditionally. I still have a online community of people I can vent to about grad school to get out my frustrations. I still have a group of people in real life who I can hang out with when I need to be away from school. I still have a lot. And I didn't really lose anything from not getting that award. Next year will be difficult for funding, but it will work out (it always does).

In our little world of academia, whether it be applications or publications, everything is a competition (even if we don't want it to be). People will constantly make you feel like you need to be the best, you need to have the most awards, you need to have the most publications, you need to have the highest impact, you need to have the best committee. And it's great to aspire to do well in all of these areas. But, school/work is school/work, and it doesn't really change who I am as a person and my value. Yes, having a better CV gets me a more competitive job. Yes, having better funding makes my life a lot easier next year. But, I have a lot beyond what a few pieces of paper say.

No one has everything. Someone may get more awards or publications. Someone may have more friends or a more stable relationship. Someone may make more money or be prettier or have fewer health problems. But no one really has everything. And, after reflection, I'm really happy for the things that I do have. More lines on a CV, more money, and more recognition in my department are great. But they don't define me.


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Very well put. I decided yesterday I would spend the day sulking about NSF, then promptly get over it. And that's exactly what I did. Today I'm back on cloud nine about getting into my top choice. Congrats on your HM! :) There's always next year for us both. 

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I too ended up with an HM.. and just got a denial from the NDSEG.  Oh well!  As you say, lots to be thankful for as it is.   :)  Maybe next year.

Congrats on your HM. : ) The way I see it, it doesn't mean we weren't good enough. It means that maybe our applications weren't tailored to our specific reviewers' liking. And it's not like we failed our defense or anything like that. We just didn't win a highly competitive fellowship.

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Rejection is tolerable - but funding rejection just makes it SO obvious how much capitalism sucks. This week, I was one of about 200 in the running for $150,000 over three years. And didn't get it. It's peanuts to some people but it would have changed my life. I could have paid off ALL of my credit card bills I ran up getting my MA, I could have not worried about income, finances, debt, interest - food insecurity and more. There IS so much to be grateful for - but this kind of rejection also really points out how horribly flawed our economic system is when we end up thinking of grants and scholarships like winning the lottery...

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Thank you, I really needed this. I am happy with the outcome of my applications than I initially expected. But I was always jealous of those who got into my first choice and occasionally regretted for not applying to some other higher ranked schools. But your words, that I am not a worse person than yesterday, really brighten me up. Rejections hurt, but I guess I still will be attending an amazing program that I am willing to commit myself for the next five years! =)

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I can't tell you how much this resonated with me.  I applied as a senior the year before I entered grad school, along with 3 other seniors in my department.  Guess who was the only one who took home an Honorable Mention and not the actual award?  Worse still, one of my best friends who worked with me in my undergrad lab got the award and I didn't, so while I was happy for him, it did unfortunately make everything hurt more.  


I keep telling myself it's okay to not hit every ball out of the park that comes your way.  It's okay to fall.  We are all a work in progress -  The important part is to improve your batting average, or get back up.  Don't let feelings of inadequacy swallow you whole - maybe right now you weren't the best candidate, but you will be.  Soon. 

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As one of the resident "oldies" around here who has more life experiences than most, all I can say is that this is something that will repeat itself over and over again throughout your life.  It often times sucks, sure, but the earlier you realize this is just one of those facts of life beyond your control, the better you will be.  I also guarantee that there will be times when you come out on top; sometimes it will feel well deserved, others, it will leave you scratching your head--"wow, I lucked out with that one, huh?"


You know, I was denied to every single program I applied to two years in a row.  One of those programs waitlisted me the first time with the PI all but saying "hey, how soon can you get here to start work in the lab" during the interview the following year.  He even sent me copies of some his own research papers after the interview to get me up to speed and we had exchanged an extensive amount of emails. I have know idea what happened.   

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At first I was not thankful for not being accepted into a Ph.D program. I was accepted into its masters and I then found funding on my own to support myself for a year. As I went along the program I realized that I dodge a bullet. The program that I am in would not prepare me for my long-term goals, which is academia. It does a good job of preparing students for the clinical aspect but if they choose to go into a university setting they would not make the cut.  The masters program gives its students the clinical aspect and so I am happy that I did not pursue my doctoral training in such a place.  I am applying to other programs and from the experience I have a better idea of what to look for.


Edited by Heavensmaiden
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Thank you for the great posting! It hits me so hard and also reminds me of what I have now and what I've achieved. It's okay to fall. It's okay to fail. It does not change who you are.

There are other opportunities once you turn around the corner. Always.

Thank you again.

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Thanks for posting. This have not gone my way this application season... and knowing that life goes on is SO important. This was my plan for awhile now, and just because my plan isn't on schedule doesn't mean I have to give up- just regroup and rearrange. Only applied for PhD (for social psych) and didn't get in. Might try for a LCMSW or go into HR instead.

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