Christine M. Moeller is currently the Information Literacy and Instruction Librarian at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin. She previously worked as the Instructional Design Librarian at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. You can find her on Twitter at @christinemmoe.
Submitting that first article to a professional journal can lead to a multitude of emotions, anxiety and fear over rejection, to name a few. It can also prompt questions like, will the reviewers appreciate what I’ve written? Will my work be accepted? When I submitted my first article for publication, shortly after leaving graduate school and beginning my first position as an academic librarian, I kept my work a secret to most, afraid of what a rejection might mean for me both personally and professionally. Since my article was largely based on experiences from graduate school, this secret was relatively easy to keep. Now that I am removed from that experience by a number of years, I recognize how much I felt that I had at stake, all based on a single work of scholarship. Some of that may have been perceived risk, but the fear of rejection was deeply real for me.
After submitting my article (which by now you can guess was ultimately rejected), I tried to forget about it, and to some extent, my circumstances as a new academic librarian helped me do just that. Then one day the response from the editor appeared in my inbox, and I remember that I waited until I was at home alone to read the email and find out the final decision. Even after learning of the editor’s recommendation that I revise and resubmit, I wasn’t sure what that meant for what I had written, so I opened the anonymous reviewers’ comments with some curiosity and a good deal of trepidation. Then, the unexpected happened. I was surprised by how insightful the reviewers were and by how much they had “read” into me, my work, and my professional interests. While I felt that a few comments may have missed the mark, one comment in particular stood out to me. The reviewer observed that the strongest section of my article focused on pedagogy and thus encouraged me to focus the article around that particular topic, since pedagogy seemed to be my area of interest.
“…the reviewer had identified something I hadn’t yet fully recognized myself: my research interests had shifted…”
While the article explored an issue I had cared about a great deal during graduate school, much of it now felt like obligatory content, and the reviewer had seen that. More than that, though, the reviewer had identified something I hadn’t yet fully recognized myself: my research interests had shifted and now focused on the process of teaching and learning. Why indeed wasn’t I focusing more on that? All this time, I was just trying to “get something published” because I thought that was what I was supposed to do as an academic librarian. Yet instead of seeing this rejection as a negative experience that eroded my professional identity, I was able to learn something valuable about myself and my work. I care about instructional design and pedagogy, and when I write about teaching and learning, that passion and curiosity clearly comes through to the reader. I learned from this reviewer (and to some extent from the rejection) that I needed to focus my professional research on the work and questions that were meaningful to me.
Learning from Feedback
In the end, my fear proved reasonable, considering that my work needed significant revision before resubmission. Instead of letting this experience discourage me, though, I choose to recognize this as a learning moment. My article wasn’t accepted because I wasn’t focusing on the research that interested me, and that was a mistake I did not want to make again. After giving considerable thought to the reviewer’s comments and suggestions, I decided that I no longer felt invested enough in this particular article to spend the time and effort necessary for revision, so instead of resubmitting, I reconsidered my research focus.
That rejection letter may not have led to the publication of that particular article, but it did help me reframe my professional research interests in a way that I continue to find engaging and rewarding, and I am grateful for that lesson. I may have been fortunate in receiving such constructive feedback, and others may not have the same luck given the complexities of the peer-review process, but we will all likely encounter rejection along our messy research paths. Instead of seeing rejection as a personal failure, I encourage you to accept it as feedback you can use to inform your own research process.
What was right for me may not be right for you, so when you face a rejection or extensive revisions, consider this a moment to engage in reflective practice and decide what response best suits your interests and circumstances. You might want to:
- Decide whether or not you can afford to skip the revise and resubmit process.
- Review the “Ten Steps to a Successful Revision” outlined by Tanya Maria Golash-Boza.
- Check out the LibParlor posts from Mark Lenker and Kevin Seeber for some additional tips on responding to reviewer feedback.
Keep the conversation going…
- What are your strategies for responding to rejection in a positive manner?
- What experiences have helped shape your research focus?
- When has feedback from a reviewer proved helpful?
Special thanks to Katlyn Griffin and the LibParlor team.
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The expressions of writer do not reflect anyone’s views but their own