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impasta

How to cope with rejections?

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Lurker here! I've followed this forum for months now and was compelled to start this topic after the flurry of rejections that have come in the past days. Currently, I'm sitting at 2a/4r/2ir/1p, which isn't the worst but isn't the best. I expected to receive rejections but each one hit me harder than anticipated despite the 2 acceptances I already have. I'm struggling to reconcile how I'm both genuinely grateful for my acceptances and gut-punched by each rejection. Maybe it's because the rejections were from top 10s, making me feel like I'm good enough to pursue a Ph.D. but not great enough to be in the best programs? Maybe it's because each application cost me time, effort, and money?

How do you GC-ers deal with rejections, and the feelings of inadequacy, imposterism, and shame that they inspire?

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4 hours ago, impasta said:

Maybe it's because the rejections were from top 10s, making me feel like I'm good enough to pursue a Ph.D. but not great enough to be in the best programs?

First off, I agree with the previous suggestion to focus on your acceptances. I would also like to add that admissions are very much about fit--and then, also, a bit of a numbers game. Looking at the US news rankings, I'm lucky enough to have 2 acceptances from top 10 programs. I've also received explicit or implicit rejections from 3 other top 10 programs. Further, I've been waitlisted at a program a little outside of the top 20. I hope this helps as an example of fit/randomness. 

EDIT: For anyone there who is looking at a shutout, I wanted to weigh in with just actual things I do to cope, in order: 

1) I tell all my friends/family "[school] doesn't want me!" -- This allows me to whine, BUT more importantly they won't ask me if I've heard back from [school]

2) I watch absurd amounts of Brooklyn 99. No, but, really...Absurd. 

3) I go read a book. I'm just finishing up The Library Book by Susan Orlean, and would recommend it!

Edited by sugilite

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On 2/22/2019 at 4:25 PM, impasta said:

Maybe it's because each application cost me time, effort, and money?

How do you GC-ers deal with rejections, and the feelings of inadequacy, imposterism, and shame that they inspire?

The money was definitely the biggest pain for me. Still feel like I'm getting stabbed if I think about almost $1,000 down the drain BUT after a really bad day of not getting out of bed and staring at the wall, I've shaken it off some. (It helped to remind myself that I was only ever going to accept at 1 school anyway, and even if more acceptances would have felt better it wouldn't have changed the time and money being gone.) When I was expecting a shutout, I had to remind myself that the time and money were useful even then for helping me figure out what wasn't working. Also, just picturing an ad-com sitting down to 300 applications and they have to somehow narrow it to 6 - thinking about the logistics of that makes me realize how much it's not a reflection of personal worth or qualifications.

Start planning for your acceptances and get excited about it. Look at apartments, places to socialize or do recreational stuff, etc. For me, that meant letting the top 10s sort of drift back into the realm of daydream that they once were. Also, thinking a lot about where I was at the beginning of my undergrad degree - I didn't have any ambitions about how good I was back then, I was just excited about chances to read and learn! For that version of me, there's no inadequacy because UG me is blown away that I kept going at all.

And I think it's fair to approach rejections like other grief and loss, even if it isn't the loss of a living being. Let yourself feel it and voice the pain, recognize what you're losing, but then move past.

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Most of the admissions process was totally out of your control. I've said in many other threads that the most important aspect of the process is who is on the committee, and what the current makeup of the graduate student body is like in the program in terms of interests. Many people on this board get accepted by Top 10 schools and get rejected by schools in the 30s and 40s. Most people applying to grad school are great candidates, and the process is very capricious.

You'll learn as you become a more experienced scholar that the ranking of one's program does not necessarily correlate to the quality of their work, the originality of their scholarship, or the breadth of their wisdom. A degree from a Top 10 is also no guarantee of a tenure track job and indeed, the lack of teaching experience one receives in many of those programs can actually be a disadvantage when applying to certain types of jobs.  The only thing that the ranking of one's school can really predict is how much financial support they'll receive, and how bowled over their Uncle Gary will be when he gets the news they were accepted.

Be happy you made it, you're still in the game, still in the chase for the brass ring. There are many who aren't. This is a long hard slog that will be filled with disappointments and devastating lows. Savor the highs, there wont be many.

Edited by jrockford27

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@whatislife69 @mandelbulb @sugilite @jillcicle @jrockford27

Thank you all for your thoughtful replies. I've struggled to focus on my acceptances despite the initial euphoria they brought. I can't help but feel like I've let down my professors, family, and friends who had high hopes for me and encouraged me to shoot for the top 10s. The rejections seem to be confirmation that their confidence in my potential is misplaced or overinflated. I felt foolish for thinking I stood a chance.

At least that's what I thought when I started the thread. It was unwise of me to apply for top programs that didn't fit my interests but I can't be faulted for applying to the ones that did. How can anyone be faulted for striving and hoping for the best?

I still lack the equanimity needed to handle rejections gracefully. What has helped the past few days was focusing on what it took for me to receive all those acceptances and rejections. Given how hard I've worked in college, studied for the GREs, and toiled away at preparing application materials, I should give myself more credit. Not because of the outcome, but because I knew what I wanted and was willing to put in time, effort, and -sigh- money to achieve it. The fact that I had the determination to power me through the application season is proof that somewhere inside me is the drive needed for a career in academia life.

Uncle Gary may not be impressed with me but I sure as hell am.

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12 hours ago, jrockford27 said:

The only thing that the ranking of one's school can really predict is how much financial support they'll receive,

I'd like to make a few notes here:
1) There are some programs which haven't made adjustments based on the recent inflations within their cities.
2) There are programs outside the top 20 that could offer you a more flexibility in being able to afford more types of living arrangements.
3) There are programs inside the top 20 which might require you to live with roommates to make sure your stipend is enough.
4) The same amount of money stretches in different ways in different cities. 
5) Bigger programs might have more opportunities but competition for those opportunities might be stronger depending on the number of awards available.
6)  There are so many great programs and it could be very challenging to say which would be able to make you feel the most supported due to the variety of funding opportunities available.

Side note: I find that Ice Cream is a good way of coping with both rejections and acceptances.

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19 minutes ago, Warelin said:

I'd like to make a few notes here:
1) There are some programs which haven't made adjustments based on the recent inflations within their cities.
2) There are programs outside the top 20 that could offer you a more flexibility in being able to afford more types of living arrangements.
3) There are programs inside the top 20 which might require you to live with roommates to make sure your stipend is enough.
4) The same amount of money stretches in different ways in different cities. 
5) Bigger programs might have more opportunities but competition for those opportunities might be stronger depending on the number of awards available.
6)  There are so many great programs and it could be very challenging to say which would be able to make you feel the most supported due to the variety of funding opportunities available.

Side note: I find that Ice Cream is a good way of coping with both rejections and acceptances.

All fair points. I was thinking less about the stipend and more about the availability of research grants and fellowships. Maybe I'm wrong about that and it's a case of the grass being greener. My program--well outside the top 10 but well-regarded in my subfield--has very good internal fellowships, but my observation is that like Uncle Gary, committees that grant outside funding seem to favor the brand name schools. That's totally anecdotal though.

Despite my anecdata and observation, I still think people should apply to a wide variety of schools because financial support isn't the most important thing. I just had a bit of scotch so I'll add that I always kind of give the side-eye to signatures on this forum that include only ivies + chicago/stanford/duke. I know there are some particularly acerbic posters in the humanities-gradcafe community who do not share my sentiment, but by this point I've been around this game enough time (time that has included sitting on search committees) to know that you can still get the brass ring without going to a top 10 school. Unlike Uncle Gary and some outside funding committees, people in the field know how arbitrary all of its processes are.

So go get it @impasta, take that ruined choir, make it sing.

Edited by jrockford27

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15 minutes ago, jrockford27 said:

My program--well outside the top 10 but well-regarded in my subfield--has very good internal fellowships,

I think this is a very important thing to bring up. Some schools have fellowships and extra contests in surprising places. The library here even has up to 10k in travel funding you can apply for. The library also host essay contests on books. My program also has dozens of awards that you could apply to.

 

1 hour ago, jrockford27 said:

but my observation is that like Uncle Gary, committees that grant outside funding seem to favor the brand name schools.

I noticed that there are certain schools that require you to apply to outside funding opportunities before they give you funding for your final year. Part of me is curious as to how many awardees are applicants from schools that require you to apply for funding vs schools that don't require you to apply. I'd be curious to see what those numbers look like.

 

1 hour ago, jrockford27 said:

I know there are some particularly acerbic posters in the humanities-gradcafe community who do not share my sentiment, but by this point I've been around this game enough time (time that has included sitting on search committees) to know that you can still get the brass ring without going to a top 10 school.

I'm with you on this one. There are so many great professors working at many different schools and different schools have different strengths. And the main professor that could best advise you isn't neccessarily the most "famous" professor. Someone who gets you and your project will help you more than someone who may not be as invested or interested in the wor you're doing. On a sidenote, I also think it's important to note that there isn't a single school which could guarantee you an interview at every school. Some things that might be considered positive at one school might be considered a negative at another school. As such, I think it's incredibly important that you feel supported in the research you do and valued by the department. The program I'm a part of is in the midst of hiring a new professor; the finalists they've brought in have degrees from 3 very different universities. All 3 have a very strong CV. 

On a side note, @impasta: You (and anyone else that may be reading this) are great:

 

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I totally feel this. 

The biggest thought running through my head is, "what if this isn't right?" What if making some changes would have affected all of these results and I would've gotten in to other schools? I'm not ungrateful for my acceptances, but I did expect more acceptances and I had certain dream schools that I was so confident I'd get into... on top of that, I know I applied to schools across North America, but I didn't really ever think I'd be leaving the northeast, let alone likely leaving the country. I'm struggling pretty hard with all of this right now. 

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Focus on the positives (your acceptances).

For the rejections, think of it in terms of if you were applying to medical school. The acceptance rates for PhD programs in English and medical schools are low. Many med students go to less prestigious programs and become respected doctors. Many English PhDs go to less respected programs and get tenured positions.

Granted, you are not looking at the same salary or employment opportunities, but people always get rejections and bad news in their lives. It is all about how you respond to it and about falling forward, not backward.

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I'm not sure what KennethBurked is talking about: "Many English PhDs go to less respected programs and get tenured positions." 

This profession has collapsed and most recent English PhDs--from the top programs, no less--cannot find full-time academic employment. And will never find it. 

I know it feels bad to be rejected, but honestly, if you were hoping to get a PhD to become a Professor then you have been shown an act of mercy by the gods. It seems that many people on this forum have very little idea just how bad the situation has become for young humanities scholars. Sadly, they'll have to confront the reality at some point, and it will be a very rude awakening. The situation is a complete disaster, and I would strongly discourage even the most promising student of English from going to graduate school. You simply will not have a job that gainfully employs you at the end of it. Look at the MLA job placement graph: https://www.mla.org/Resources/Career/Job-Information-List/Reports-on-the-MLA-Job-Information-List. If you're so lucky to get one of the very few jobs, you will effectively become an adjunct manager in what has become a deeply unfair and exploitative system. 

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9 hours ago, wordstew said:

I'm not sure what KennethBurked is talking about: "Many English PhDs go to less respected programs and get tenured positions." 

This profession has collapsed and most recent English PhDs--from the top programs, no less--cannot find full-time academic employment. And will never find it. 

I know it feels bad to be rejected, but honestly, if you were hoping to get a PhD to become a Professor then you have been shown an act of mercy by the gods. It seems that many people on this forum have very little idea just how bad the situation has become for young humanities scholars. Sadly, they'll have to confront the reality at some point, and it will be a very rude awakening. The situation is a complete disaster, and I would strongly discourage even the most promising student of English from going to graduate school. You simply will not have a job that gainfully employs you at the end of it. Look at the MLA job placement graph: https://www.mla.org/Resources/Career/Job-Information-List/Reports-on-the-MLA-Job-Information-List. If you're so lucky to get one of the very few jobs, you will effectively become an adjunct manager in what has become a deeply unfair and exploitative system. 

I would be shocked if any applicant did not know this to some extent. That people are still here, still trying, might be because the prospect of doing something they love and worrying about career prospects later is more appealing than worrying about finding career prospects (in fields they’re less interested in) now. Some might be blindly hoping the situation will improve, or that they will be the lucky ones, too. This is an issue that has been, is being, and will be discussed on this forum and elsewhere for a long time. Every year I have been here multiple members have come out, citing the same sources and making similar arguments. As with any advice, I think people appreciate the help but ultimately decide for themselves of this is a risk they’re willing to take. What’s less appreciated is being condescended to. All in all, this is an important conversation to have and should continue to take place as newcomers should be warned.

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WildeThing is right - it's good to be reminded of such statistics, of course, but plenty of us have contingency plans if the PhD doesn't result in a job. I know I do. 

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