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Resilience has been most frequently defined as positive adaptation despite adversity. We are all of us, daily exposed to adversity, failure and episodes of disappointments. As a researcher, for example by grants refused, papers rejected or finding that after months following an idea, you realize that is a dead end. To be a researcher in modern times requires not only good ideas, being brilliant and work hard, but it also requires passion and perseverance for your long term goals.

Academia is a tough and highly competitive environment. Not getting personal with rejection is fundamental to move from the not satisfying feeling of failure quickly. The definition of resilience is “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” It is to extract the “best” from the “bad” perhaps the smartest move one can do in such kind of situations. In the beginning, for me, it was difficult to recover from bad episodes, i.e. receiving a rejection from grants, articles, etc. I realized that one way to counter-attack this awful feeling is to analyze the context of rejection carefully and build a constructive perspective out of it. Since failure is not a permanent condition, we can always improve. This is now a basic step I perform on each event of “rejection”. I want to make this information public because it shows a different angle. I’m not arguing that this is logical, but it reflects a perspective I want to share.

In the following, there are integral extracts of rejection letters to my proposals. For obvious reasons, I do not show the scientific context; rather a context of the rejection, then I dissect the reviews and reply to them. Recently I lurched with this article while searching effects of non-granted projects in research performance. “Early career grants, performance, and careers: A study on the predictive validity of grant decisions” by Van den Besselaar and Sandström, Journal of Informetrics 9 (2015) 826–838.


Context: This project proposal was submitted to SNSF (Swiss National Science Foundation) for the call Ambizione 2016. It is a 4 years grant as a senior postdoc with the possibility to hire a PhD student.

Feedback received

  1. “The candidate has a good list of publications but is not exceptional because is difficult to judge clearly a profile of independent researcher”
  2. “Research plan is qualify interested however reviewers find it highly risky”
  3. “The project is technically very challenging and the objectives are not reachable, due to the fact DFT is obsolete and present serious limitation to describe correlated systems”
  4. “Finally the conseil also regret the not so optimal decision of the candidate to stay in the same laboratory. For these reasons and comparing to other candidates your dossier is rejected.”


My analysis

  1. I can account that more than 80 % of my publication were/are originated from my own ideas (including early stages during my PhD). It is not too hard to distinguish the independent character of a researcher. It suffices to look at the pattern of publication and author-list, at the research subjects and more importantly: execution times. One can spot the type of ideas and even how articles are written, evidencing the “character” of the researcher.
  2. I accept. Sometimes I am too ambitious, especially when it comes to Science. Is it not “Ambizione” a word related to ambitious?
  3. I would terribly disagree with the inexperienced referee.
  4. Do I lack mobility? Certainly, this is arguable. Short bio: I grew up and studied in Mexico, did my PhD in France (3 years), moved to Germany (3 years) and when applying, I just arrived in Basel. Do I need to move again? Other major Swiss cities are on average less than an hour by train. What is the concept of mobility here? And what is the concept of continuity?


What I took from this exercise

Not really much to save from this proposal,

* scientific report (1 single one) was weak and did not provide well-founded criticism.

* my research profile, between lines I can read the necessity to find an excuse for rejection.