Having your paper rejected is never fun, but it happens. Almost everyone who has ever published a paper knows what it’s like to have a paper rejected. It’s the norm.
But, when you’re doing a PhD, paper rejections seem to sting a little more. Partly because you’re usually not as experienced with it as other more seasoned academics. Partly because your papers are often tied in with the success of your PhD. Partly because we know that papers do have an impact on our job prospects after the PhD.
Getting your paper rejected can lead to low points in your PhD where you feel deflated. That doesn’t make for a very enjoyable experience and leads to a massive loss in motivation.
Almost every PhD supervisor will face this difficulty because most PhD students will face paper rejection.
How do you boost your student’s morale? How do you help them feel motivated and happy after a paper rejection?
Disappointment is greatly heightened by the expectations we have prior to the event. In the case of having your paper rejected, if you expected it to be accepted, then it will be a far greater blow than if you didn’t really think it would be accepted to begin with.
To help get your student over a paper rejection, start preparing them for the reality of publishing before they’ve even submitted their paper. Every researcher knows that there’s a good chance of your paper being rejected, especially if it’s your first paper – we’ve all been there. So, letting your student know that will help them prepare for that possible outcome.
What’s more, just because your paper is rejected doesn’t mean that it’s a bad paper. Once again, being a new researcher (as most PhD students are) means that you usually feel like your paper is bad simply because you’re new, you don’t know what you’re doing, and people are tearing it apart. We’ve all been there too.
However, there are many papers that have been rejected, and rejected multiple times, to go on and become cornerstones of their field – some have even won their authors the Nobel prize! Many others have received hundreds and even thousands of citations, or more!
Having your paper rejected does not necessarily mean it was a bad paper, and PhD students need to know that. If you tell them that, then they won’t feel as bad if their paper gets rejected because it doesn’t necessarily mean that their paper was bad. Sure, you can try to decouple your student’s self-worth from their paper, but it is quite difficult to do that simply because after spending so much time and energy on it, you kind of see it as a reflection of yourself. You definitely should try to get them to decouple their self-worth from it, but don’t be surprised if it takes time. More effective and more immediate approaches are the ones discussed above.
After your student has understood these aspects of the publication process, they won’t be as upset if their paper is rejected.
Now, if their paper is rejected, a good method to employ once this happens is to remind them of other achievements they’ve had. We have a free template that you can use to track them and help remind your student of their achievements when times are tough. You can find it, and many other free templates, here (https://phdvoice.org/free-resources/).
All achievements, big or small, should be tracked because those are indications that your student is doing well. Even just writing a paper is a big achievement – that requires doing a literature review, developing a research method, actually doing the research, processing the data and making sense out of them, and writing everything up in a cohesive document. There are a bunch of achievements right there and having their paper rejected doesn’t negate them. They’ve still achieved these things. They still have a paper and can submit it somewhere else. It’s not a big deal. Despite the publication process taking a long time, it’s really just one step of the entire process of writing a paper.
We also have big news. We wrote a book about “Supervising PhD Students, Effectively”. You can find it here!
If you want to improve your supervision skills, then take our training: here. It’s called, “Becoming A Better PhD Supervisor – PhD Voice Training”. It addresses issues such as these and more! It makes supervising easier and more efficient.