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Posted on 15 Nov '18

5 Steps to Deal with Postgrad Rejection

You got rejected. This might be your first time . . . it might be you’ve lost count. Whether it’s a PhD application, or an interview, or trying to find funding, or something else, rejection and failure is just part and parcel of the job, I’m afraid. And it feels rubbish.

And that’s fine.

Because it happens to everyone, all the time, and because we’re all human, it always will.

So, how do you deal with rejection? How can you overcome failure?

1. Take a break*

*Please don't sue, chocolate biscuit company

The first step is to stop. And relax.

It’s important to respond, not react, and that can take time. Put down the rejection letter. Close that email. And don’t react in an impulsive way that you’ll regret later.

Give yourself a break. Literally, if you like. A change of scenery, a bit of exercise, whatever you need to do to put that hurt to one side. This isn’t running or hiding from the problem. This is understanding that you will deal with it better with time.

When you’re ready, move on to the next step.

2. You should go love yourself

Outdated Justin Bieber reference aside, maybe it’s worth reflecting on what you did well. The hardest step is taking the risk, and you’ve succeeded where others have failed just by applying in the first place. Work out what was successful, and why. If you got shortlisted, or got an interview, or only just missed out, it means there were aspects of your application that were good. These achievements shouldn’t be overlooked, so ensure you reward yourself and feel good about it!

It’s also important to remember that rejection and failure are temporary. It’s said that Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb by finding 10,000 ways not to invent a lightbulb (and stealing the idea, but that’s beside the point). That failure will be forgotten when you do succeed.

Sometimes, it’s crucial to consider that you are not responsible for the decision-making process. There are some things that you cannot control – but ultimately, it’s only worth focussing on the things you can control. Yes, improving your application will improve your chances of success, but that’s no guarantee that you’ll be accepted. Just do what you can and don’t feel guilty for not doing what you cannot.

So, forgive yourself for the bad and find hope from the good.

3. It’s supposed to be difficult

If you’re finding this process easy, then you’re probably doing it wrong. Or you’re a super-duper genius. Good for you.

This is meant to be a challenge. Postgraduates are the best and the brightest, and it’s easy to forget it’s a pretty exclusive club. A rejection is not about being bad at something – it’s about finding the opportunity to get better.

It will take a lot of effort and intelligence to craft the best application that you can, and even then, you need a sprinkling of good luck. If you’re finding it tough that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not good enough or you’re doing it wrong – it’s a test of your resilience.

4. Time for an honest evaluation

Now the hard bit. It’s time to work out what went wrong.

Firstly, realise that just because success is good, it does not naturally follow that failure is bad. The more that you can identify that went wrong, the more that can be improved. And the more that is improved, the stronger your application will be.

Let’s go through the feedback. If you didn’t get any, make sure you ask for it (and get it). Try to compartmentalise the advice: tackle one thing at a time. You should also be specific in your evaluation. Just because this was bad, it does not mean that was bad, or that the whole application was bad for that matter.

Work out what specific aspect didn’t work. Was it the CV, covering letter, or personal statement? The research proposal? The interview? Do you have good references? Are you eligible?

It’s OK if you don’t feel very confident at this stage. Overcoming problems is a form of growing, and your confidence will grow with time, too.

Building up your support network is vital, too. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help. Luckily, we have great advice sections all about applications on FindAPhD – make sure you use them.

5. Just do it*

*Please don’t sue, popular sportswear company

It’s difficult to build up the motivation to go again after a rejection. But the only way to turn that failure into success to try, try, and try again.

And this isn’t just a repeat of the same process over and over. You need be smarter than that. Set specific and achievable goals to improve your application. And really commit to them. Even successful people get rejected – the difference is they can’t be kept down.

Just imagine how good it will feel when you finally get accepted for your postgrad programme.

And most importantly, just do it.

Failure is fine

This won’t be the last time you fail or get rejected.

And that’s fine.

Because you’re on the journey to success. Going through this process teaches you some important skills: risk-taking, resilience, self-confidence, and effective proposals, to name a few.

And it just so happens that the lessons and skills you learn from dealing with failure are the exact same skills you need to study a postgraduate degree. So, don’t let failure stop you from trying again.

And you can try again here, at FindAPhD.

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