30 Sep 2010

Rejection

Recently, my mentor asked us to speak to some colleagues in China. I was assigned the easy topic of how to present scientific works in international meetings. Rightfully, GW had to talk about how to lead a successful academic career as a young doctor in Asia.

I was secretly happy that I did not have to do the other task. Above all, if I claim myself successful, I would blush for the entire talk. More importantly, Angelina keeps reminding me that I am no longer young.

Nevertheless, if I have to share my experience, have I learned a thing or two in my career?

Most youngsters would probably be surprised if I say the first thing that came through my mind was rejection. Teachers in medical schools often graduate with flying colors, pass all professional exams with ease, and are respectable clinicians. How can they be associated with failures?

The truth is I cannot count how many times my scientific papers and grant proposals were rejected. I had a paper which had been rejected by five different journals in a row. Some editors were nice and gave constructive comments. Others said the work was crap and should not be done in the first place. Each and every time, I wondered if this was the life I wanted to lead. To the least, if I just do clinical work, most of my patients have been satisfied with my service.

At one point, I asked my mentor what else I needed to improve before I could get my work published in leading medical journals. My hidden message was actually “I have done everything I can but the works all ended up in mediocre journals. I cannot take this any longer.”

He simply answered, “You have already got all the qualities to generate significant works. You have ideas, writing skills and also the patience to wait for the data. As for publications, luck plays a major part. In the current system, your paper will be rejected if just one of the reviewers dislikes your work. Just give it time.”

Looking back, of course I know I did not have the qualities my mentor described. But I did continue and the work was getting better. For those who wish to quit, I must say that rejection is a unique experience to improve oneself and it is worth it.

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