Howard Gardner

My actual rejection letters are numerous, indeed innumerable, but no particular one stands out in my mind.

Nonetheless I have a reflection that might be of use to students.  As a researcher who lived on ‘soft money’ for twenty years and has been applying for grants for over forty years, I have ample experiences in being rejected.  Indeed, I would estimate that I’ve received at least 100 grant letter rejections, mostly form letters, very few of any help in and of themselves.

But my colleagues and I have learned at least two lessons over the years:

  1. In addition to acceptance and rejection files, keep a ‘ray of hope’ file.  This is a file where the particular proposal has been rejected but the funder has left open the possibility of future funding of a similar or different project.  So long as the ‘open door’ is not completely formulaic, this is important information to keep in mind and on hand. 
  2. Even when you get a flat rejection, don’t share your annoyance/anger/depression with the funder.  Indeed, if you have any kind of history or relation with the funder, do the opposite.  Thank the funder for the care taken with your application.  Ask if they have any additional suggestions or feedback.  Keep them  informed about what you  are doing.  More often than you might think,  what your mother told you is true: “it never hurts to express gratitude and to stay in touch.” And more often than you think, a rejection can transmogrify into a very useful suggestion about other funders or even some kind of support in the future.

As a researcher, I have also had dozens, perhaps hundreds, of rejections of scholarly or popular articles.  Usually you cannot do anything about these except send the piece elsewhere.  But if the rejections come with reasons, and the reasons seem spurious, you can sometimes change the mind of the editor.  Anyway, it is worth a try.

Howard Gardner rejection letter