Pre-tenure faculty face a great deal of pressure to keep publishing and keeping productivity steady. Yet after a few rejections, they can stumble and question their confidence.
A client, Anna, came to me because she could not complete her writing. She had deep writer’s block and it led to a negative performance review. A top journal had rejected the piece by saying that the topic was not relevant to the field. The topic was the work that she was most passionate about. Untangling the threads of her experience ,this piece reflected what she viewed as her purpose—her meaningful work. The rejection led her to believe that her field doubted the value of her work. We talked through whether one set of three editors could reflect the field. We also considered that if the field did not value her work, would she stop her work: Rather than becoming more afraid, Anna redoubled her faith in her work. Part of her purpose, she believed was to shift the field to embrace a broader range of understanding of the field, and a broader range of perspectives. Rejection, then, will be expected, but she could feel in her core that her work was valuable and that she had to find the strengthen to engage in her work from within—future rejections would fuel her fire rather than extinguish it.
Other faculty struggle with negative feedback from their past:
Despite receiving a prestigious fellowship to attend graduate school and obtaining a 4.0 in her coursework, Eileen’s dissertation defense was a rough ride. Her committee members were more critical than she suspected. They raised doubts about the rigor of her findings, claiming that she was speaking more from advocacy than from the data itself. She managed to pass her dissertation after multiple revisions.
She found a plum tenure-track position at a university with supportive colleagues. She successfully published on new research that she was conducting with great collaborators, but she struggled to publish out of her dissertation. She felt blocked and paralyzed. Every time she tried, she would hear the voices of her committee in her head, telling her that her work did not match up to the standard that they had expected.
I worked with Eileen to spot the inner critic as it emerged and to pivot to healthy habit to completing her writing. We worked on tapping into her sense of purpose and values—why she wanted to be a researcher in the first place. We helped her to identify a community of colleagues who could give her safe but critical feedback. We identified ways to benchmark her productivity and to outlets for her scholarship that would help to move her career forward.