Our Brazilian correspondent reflects on the early career researcher’s frequent experience of rejection, at the very end of our month looking at “saying no“. What’s it like to be on the receiving end of “no”?
Recently I had two job interviews for teaching positions at universities here in Brazil. Needless to say, what I got from both was, “No, thank you.” It was hard to swallow.
Looking at my board interviewers’ faces, I knew I would get a ‘no’ the second the first interview began. During the interview, the second interviewer, who happened to be the coordinator of the University program, was a mean man. He made me feel like I didn’t belong there or anywhere. I left the place feeling like I should give up and run for the hills. I knew I didn’t get the position, and by the end, I knew I wouldn’t want it anyway.
The second interview, though, was a completely different story. I had to prepare a class presentation for a theme they gave me just 24 hours prior, but the interview was light, fun and the board of professors interviewing me seemed to assess my qualities, instead of only pointing out my flaws. I left the room feeling positive and important. I left the room feeling, “I got the job!”
By the time I got back home, I had an email from them in my inbox. I opened it quickly and there was the news that ruined my bright day: “Unfortunately, you didn’t get the position. We wish you good luck in your future endeavors.” I was mad! It didn’t make any sense to me at that moment. They were so positive during the interview. They only said good things about my resume, my presentation, and how much I could offer to the university and the students. They even hugged me at the end – no kidding! How often does that happen? So, I was mad, to say the least.
I sent them an email asking where I failed, so I could improve in my future interviews. The response was that despite my resume being great, I had a very calm and passive way of teaching and that I should be more energetic instead. That was their feedback. To be honest, I still don’t accept it completely. Yes, I am a calm, easygoing person (most of the time!), but I firmly believe we can learn with calmness and sweetness. Despite my lack of experience in a classroom, I knew I could do it. I knew I could handle the students and I knew I could deliver what would be expected from me. I had students in my lab during my PhD and I was responsible for teaching them and helping them with their own projects. Back in college, the best and most encouraging teachers were the ones who taught us with a joyful spirit and sensitive manner, not just the ones who showed the most energy.
Just yesterday, I received the answer about my application to my dream post-doc position: someone else was a better fit for the position. While I understood the professor’s decision, I was disappointed. The deciding factor that led the professor to pick someone else over me was a skill I haven’t yet had the opportunity to learn, and I wonder, how will I ever learn something new if no one is willing to let me try? So many questions and so few answers. This reminds me of something my therapist once said to me: A “No” always comes with more questions.
Recently, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote for Oprah’s Magazine about how she handles criticism. She provided four questions as a guide for whether we can trust someone’s opinions about our work:
- Do I trust this person’s taste and judgment?
- Does this person understand what I’m trying to create here?
- Does this person genuinely want me to succeed?
- Is this person capable of delivering the truth to me in a sensitive and compassionate manner?
While it may be hard to apply all four of her questions to the feedback from a job interview or a journal analysis of your paper, you can simply apply one: Does this person understand what I am trying to create here? Often, the truth doesn’t come in a sensitive and compassionate manner. It is up to us to evaluate if a criticism is one that will improve our work and skills, or if it is only an unhelpful opinion that should be discarded after consideration. Is it possible to do what the journal is requesting from your experiment/paper? Is it possible for you to change traits from your personality in order to improve your chances to get a job? Or is it better to keep searching for best fit for you?
It isn’t easy to be on the receiving end of ‘no’. Be it for a journal paper, a collaboration with another research group, or a job position. However, for me it is always better to know than not knowing. It is better to know where I stand than wonder, “what if…?” But getting a ‘no’, and then hearing the truth about what lead to you being rejected, doesn’t make it any easier. I will try to take the teaching advice for my next interview, but how much is it me and how much I can improve without changing myself?
That’s a question I’ll only be able to answer with time. But with every ‘no’ we receive, it is important to move forward and not get stuck on the bad lines. Even with rejection, it is possible to grow and become a better and improved version of yourself, or at least it’s a chance to get to know yourself and know your values better. And with every ‘no’ I always remind myself, JK Rowling never gave up.
Image credit: CC0 Public domain, via Pixabay