I myself work as a clinician-scientist. I work in a small group and oversee several students. The current situation involves one of them who is a PhD-candidate. She is bright, fast and hard-working. Over the past two years, she wrote several good papers. Many of these papers are based on existing collections of data. Two out of six papers were published. We tried to maximize their impact and submitted to journals with good impact factors in our field. This ended up in 4 papers being under review at the same time (although one was submitted 11 months ago and the other one just a few weeks ago). Now all 4 papers got rejected within one week. For her, this is a tough issue and hard to deal with. We discussed this today but I somewhat failed in encouraging her to just resubmit her work to other journals. Although I repeatedly emphasized that publishing also involves luck, (I feel that) she left the conversation with the impression that her work is not good enough for publication.

What could I have done better?

PS: I am convinced of the quality of her work. It is super solid and will eventually get published sooner or later.

I am aware of Losing confidence after a series of paper rejections but could only find a partial answer here.

  • How long was the time span between the last rejection and your talk? Maybe she just needs a few days to handle the frustration, and if you talk to her again next week, the outcome will be different. (At least, that's what holds true for me...)
    – Sabine
    Commented May 12, 2023 at 18:07

3 Answers 3


I think you're doing fine.

To me, the best way to convey this oddity of the academic publishing system is by sharing experiences and telling stories. If you get 20 academics in a room and tell the story "I once had 4 papers rejected in one week", I'd expect a combination of "Wow, that's great productivity to have 4 papers in submission at once!" and "Ha, that's nothing, one time I had 4 papers rejected in an hour!" It's just life in academia.

Now, I don't actually mean for you to assemble a room of 20 people to do this as some sort of intervention, but rather to reiterate this, share your own first-person and third-person stories, hopefully some that have a positive ending. And as more of a prophylactic approach, make sure there are social opportunities for your students to talk to each other and other researchers about these sorts of things. The group I work in has occasional "journal club" meetings where someone presents a paper that we all discuss, but especially in the good weather months we have these meetings outside, some people drink beer or eat ice cream, and people tend to hang out and linger afterwards. Or dinner parties. A lot of conversations about academia more broadly occur in those settings naturally.

Importantly, though, you also don't own or control anyone else's emotions. It can be difficult, especially for people with strong empathy, to be comfortable with others having negative emotions. You want to fix it! You want them to feel better! Sometimes, you can't. Having even 1 rejection at a time deserves a bit of a grieving process. As a mentor, you want to try to prevent that from becoming broader disillusionment and prevent it from turning into "giving up", but it's fine for it to hurt for a little while. Try to help set a schedule/goals for resubmission to keep a clock on it, but don't feel pressured to resolve this immediately, and don't put too much pressure on the next round needing to succeed. Also remember that you're not having an argument here, just present your own thoughts and feelings. If a student says they feel their work isn't good enough, if you disagree you don't need to tell them they're wrong. You can just say, "I'm proud of your work and proud to be your coauthor." It's fine if they roll their eyes, it'll sink in later.

Consider also some alternatives for spreading the work. Medicine is a bit slower on embracing preprints, but many journals are now okay with them: check the ones you plan to submit to, and if they allow then get your work up on medrxiv or similar, or biorxiv if the work is closer to basic science. Look for and suggest opportunities for presenting at conferences for your students: the networking opportunities are very important but they also give an opportunity to present work where you're face-to-face with the people evaluating it: that gives a better opportunity to defend the work and share the results compared to the faceless process of journal peer review. Look for opportunities for internal presentations to other students/faculty/clinicians as appropriate. These can happen before work is polished for submission, too: look for as many possibilities for feedback and sharing work as possible.

  • 1
    @ Bryan Krause - Thank you so much!! I am not so experienced with mentoring students (I have this role since 18 months). Would you advice me to seek follow-up contact or just let a week pass before going back to the topic?
    – Dr.M
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 15:13
  • 9
    @Dr.M I think it depends on your normal contact schedule; also hard for me to advise from afar. If a student was really struggling with it, maybe it would help to reach out sooner, otherwise your normal contact schedule seems fine (e.g., if you meet weekly). A short note along the lines of "Hey, I know the news this week has been tough, just want to reiterate that I think this work is strong, publishing decisions can be a bit arbitrary, and we aimed high on the journal targets. When we meet next Thursday we can talk next steps" could be nice, or it might feel oppressive.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 15:28
  • 6
    Add on a personal story: My first 2 manuscript submissions were 6 months apart to different venues and rejected within 3 hours of one another. I've got a TT job now though, so...
    – user137975
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 15:45
  • 4
    Also, focus on the positive side: having two papers already published in pre-doctoral phase is per se an excellent result; and tell her that she should look at the rejections more as "in flight" work than "lost" work.
    – Rmano
    Commented May 12, 2023 at 9:02

When I was a first-year undergraduate student, we were working on a topic that was genuinely interesting, but new to my supervisor. Our paper was rejected six times. Not because the quality of the work was low but because we didn't have a good network and were aiming quite high and didn't quite know which journals to aim for. After the first two rejections, I lost hope. My supervisor didn't and persisted that the work is of good quality and assured us that it was just a matter of patience. It got rejected four more times before finally getting published.

I guess in professional research it is more about the work, and not about the result. It is a game of the last man standing. Most successful researchers now are not the ones who always focus on conquering new peaks, but the ones who just hold on to the end of the cliff for a longer time. You must learn to move on and try persistently. Science and art is very similar in that sense. People create art not thinking about the amount it would fetch, but thinking about the enjoyment it offers. Many art works will remain unappreciated, and some of it might even end up in the darkest corner of an art room; but after some time you will make a masterpiece and that's when people would compete to buy even your worst works.

Forget about the result, and focus on the work, results will come automatically. All the best for your work and please ask the student to keep her head high and move on.


You did fine! I think it's more a case of what to do next rather than what you could have done better, as it would be surprising if, after 4 rejections, she didn't spend some time questioning her own abilities.

I would suggest some combination of the following, whichever appeal to you:

  • Keep mentioning over the long term that you believe in their abilities and work.
  • Point out that it is normal to feel inadequate after multiple article rejections, but that feeling passes as the work continues.
  • Share something like the CV of failures, or your own greatest hits of career No's, so they can see that multiple, continued rejections is the mark of the professional---only amateurs expect "genius" to be recognized first time.
  • Perhaps a book such as Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks would be helpful. I think it is more humanities-based, but its introduction has some good data and anecdote on how common it is for junior researchers to delay re-submitting rejected articles, and how important it is that they get the work back out there.
  • Start a lab or cross-lab writing group specifically aimed at revising journal articles that have already been peer-reviewed.

I wish all advisors were as supportive as you appear to be.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .