Coping With the Inevitable and Soul Crushing Experience of Science (and Life)

To be a scientist is to know the soul crushing reality of putting your heart and soul into something in order for it to fail or be rejected. Whether it’s a PhD/ grant/ job application or an experiment that has taken 2 months (or longer) to prepare and a week to carry out; failure is inevitable. However, letting it get to you isn’t going to help and so here is my foolproof plan for “coping with inevitable and soul crushing rejection”

Step 1

Step 1: Junk Food and Alcohol

Burgers, ice cream, wine, chocolate … they all work. I always allow at most one evening of mild wallowing. It’s going to be hard to accept that all of your hard work has amounted to nothing, but it has. Accept it, have some chocolate, moan to a friend, drink some wine, move on. Wallowing isn’t going help and it’s certainly not going to change anything. But its ok to be sad about it. After all, it sucks.

Step 2: Troubleshoot

Where did it all go wrong? Why? Who else has managed to make it go right? What did they do differently? What are you actually trying to achieve? Ask all of the questions. Really think about what you did and why. Think of all the stages and try and pinpoint the moment it all came tumbling down, and then learn from it. Making mistakes is no big deal but making sure that you learn from them is. Sometimes things just don’t work (especially in science) but there is always something to learn from it. Plus making sure that you know why it didn’t work is just as important as why it should have.

Step 3: Plan, plan, plan

Make plans. Use what went wrong last time and make a plan that is (hopefully) foolproof. If your experiment takes 3 months to prep, make sure you always have back ups. If your CV isn’t up to scratch, circulate it around as many people as you can to get thoughts, opinions and changes. Build yourself back up with the new knowledge of what dragged you down last time. Maybe you have to change what you were going to do completely and start again but at least you now know what not to do.

Step 4(a): Accept and move on

Ok *disclaimer* so it may still not work, but knowing you’ve done everything possible to try and make it work is going to make the next bout of rejection a bit easier, because sometimes things just aren’t meant to happen. That’s ok though, go back to step 1 and work out what to do next. There are always more options than you realise especially if you’ve been focusing on something very specific. So take a step back, breathe, and then move on.

Step 4(b): Boss it

Yay its worked! Do a happy dance, call your mum, humble brag on facebook and then start planning the next thing.


So there you go a step by step guide on how not to crumble and spend your days crying in the stairwell at work. This also works for other experiences too, including, but not limited to; terrible tinder dates, baking, bad superhero movies and putting IKEA furniture together.

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