Material for this article is taken from the Failing Forward workshop given by GPS and resources from BUCC. If you would like to review the recording of this session, it is posted on this page:

No matter what discipline you’re in, the experience of encountering rejection and failure is universal. And either directly encountering or stressing over those experiences is something that can come to cast a shadow over our academic careers, holding us back from trying new things or pursing the study we love. So how do we make those failures work for us? And are there ways to make rejection a pathway to success, rather than taking it as a confirmation of our own insecurities? Today’s article is about these key questions, offering some highlights from the recent GPS workshop on “Falling Forward,” or how to make failure work for you instead of against you.

Interpret Feedback as Affirmation

When waiting for evaluation in the form of a grade, comments on an assignment, or a potential publication, it’s easy to take a “no news is good news” approach. No news, after all, means no negative news. But when it comes to academic proposals, seminar papers, research reviews, publishing, etc., receiving feedback can actually be a positive sign. It means that someone sees value and potential in your work, and they believe that it is a project worth your continued time and efforts. So, the next time you have an article rejected or a proposal turned down, with feedback included, or you get notes for revisions on a class assignment, don’t take that as a negative criticism. Instead, let yourself be encouraged as you enter the next steps of refining a worthwhile endeavor and embrace that invitation to continue improving your work.

Contextualize Your Failures

While failure may seem to be something isolating or embarrassing, it’s important to remember that you’re not the only person who has ever experienced it. In fact, it’s likely that most of your faculty, peers, and mentors have all experienced failure and rejection in one way or another, and reaching out to them for support can be incredibly affirming in those difficult moments. Many times, they’ll be able to help you get outside of your own head, help you identify areas for improvement, and decide your next steps moving forward. Additionally, remember that you’re a graduate student: while your time in here at Baylor ushers you into the professional world, you are still very much a professional-in-training. So, allow yourself the space to be bad at something, to grow and make progress in in your skills, to have those formative moments of falling and learning to move forward again. Because someday you’ll look back and realize that those were some of the most defining moments of your career. 

Build Resilience

If you’re trying to build your confidence and resilience in the academic field, then it may be a good idea to start out small and work your way up to larger tasks. For example, doing shorter, low-stakes classroom assignments before moving to a seminar paper, or writing a book review for a journal before trying to publish your own article. Even taking up a new hobby that requires you to do new or challenging things consistently (such as watercolor painting, running, or making fancy coffee drinks) can be good for getting into a rhythm of being comfortable with learning from your mistakes. The point is to build up resiliency overall when it comes to encountering failure or negative feedback, so that you’re not blindsided by the experience when it comes in higher-stakes situations. Then, you’ll be able to take a clearer perspective on where your experiences offer guidelines for improvement and move on from them with confidence in your own ability to grow.


Encountering failure or rejection is never easy, but it also doesn’t need to be something that acts as a roadblock to your career. So, take those chances, send out those articles and grant proposals and projects, then go out and celebrate with your friends the achievement of trying something new. Then, whether you fail or succeed, go out and celebrate again. Because both situations offer equal opportunity for growth and accomplishment, and that kind of learning process is what grad school is all about.