Overcoming Adversity

by Amila Suraweera

The saying “publish or perish” resonates with every scientist. Publishing is our bread and butter and without it, our research careers cannot survive.

Like most scientists, I am very passionate about my research. It is the passion that drives us and makes us stay in academia, a system that always demands us to constantly keep proving ourselves and quantify our worth. While we love what we do, failure and rejection at any stage in our career is hard to deal with.

“Behind every publication is blood, sweat and tears”

Amila SuraweeraI have been in research for over a decade and have had my fair share of manuscript rejections throughout my career. However, my recent experience with failure hit home the hardest. I put my heart and soul into a new project and after several years, the time had finally come to submit our manuscript for peer review. I felt so excited and relived when I hit the submit button. However, the excitement was short lived and much to our dismay, the editor and reviewers did not share our enthusiasm. So began the endless cycle of revision and resubmission to one journal after another, a process we scientists are all too familiar with.

After several rejections and heartbreak, many months later, my manuscript was finally accepted. On one hand it was anti-climactic, but at the same time I felt relief. I could finally close this chapter and move on. Although my research was not published in the journal I initially anticipated, it was published nonetheless. At the end of the day, a publication is a win. Behind every publication is blood, sweat and tears and the overwhelming desire to progress the field and make a difference.

The take home message

While I will undoubtedly face many more manuscript rejections in my career, what I have learnt from this recent failure is that we are better than our failures. They do not define us. While we may not always publish in the top tier journals in our field, that does not mean the research we do is unimportant. Rejection hurts at any stage of our lives. With experience we become better at handling rejection and reluctantly accept that academia is a journey of perseverance.

From the wise words of Nelson Mandela, “do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again”. So, to all my fellow scientists who suffer rejected manuscripts or declined grant applications, there is light at the end of the tunnel. I urge you to stay strong as we have all been there and once more, stood tall.

Amila SuraweeraAbout the author:

Amila Suraweera received a PhD from the University of Queensland, Australia. She did her first Postdoctoral Fellowship at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK. Amila moved back to Australia for the birth of her first child and after having a break from research, started a second Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane. Amila currently works as a Research Fellow/Lecturer in the field of DNA repair and cancer biology and enjoys juggling a career in cancer research and motherhood.

Twitter: @AmilaSuraweera
LinkedIn: Amila Suraweera

About this article

This is one of our shortlisted entries for the second EACR Science Communication Prize. Choosing a winner was incredibly difficult and we’re delighted to be able to share our amazing shortlist.