Receiving rejections is a common experience for Ph.D. students, and each individual has their own way of handling them. In this essay, I would like to share some strategies that have helped me cope with rejection.
- Don’t take it personally: In most cases, papers are evaluated based solely on their content, even in single-blinded review processes. The outcome of the review is influenced not only by the quality of the paper, which can depend on factors such as the topic, evaluation setup, preparation, and writing time, but also by the personal preferences and backgrounds of the reviewers. It is important to note that some papers that were rejected by lower-ranked conferences ended up receiving the best paper award at higher-ranked conferences. Furthermore, studies have shown that the review process for NeurIPS (a top conference in machine learning) is not significantly better than random selection. Therefore, it is crucial to understand that a paper rejection does not imply that your work is of poor quality. Your worth as a researcher cannot be determined by one or several paper rejections.
- Learn from the comments: Comments provided by reviewers can be a valuable source of learning. Pay close attention, especially when multiple reviewers point out the same issue. Try to put yourself in the position of the readers and reviewers when assessing your paper. If you find yourself confused by certain comments, it is helpful to discuss them with your advisor or seek clarification from others in your field.
- Take a step back and then resubmit: Rejection can be disheartening, and it is natural to feel saddened by it. Take some time for yourself and spend it with family or friends to rejuvenate. If you are not comfortable revising the paper immediately, do not force yourself. However, it is important to eventually gather the courage to revise your paper and submit it elsewhere. Often, people tend to shift their focus to new projects instead of working on something that has been rejected. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the quality of papers typically improves with each rejection, increasing the chances of acceptance.
Remember that many outstanding papers have been rejected before eventually being published, even by top and experienced researchers. Being subject to judgment is an integral part of a researcher’s life, and learning to navigate it is essential.