On Friday, as part of my new “Dave’s Dissertation Advice,” video series, I posted a video on being willing to get it wrong. The main idea of the video, I suppose, was a take on the fairly common “You can’t win if you don’t play” idea. I was talking about the willingness to make mistakes, the willingness to experiment and explore, and the willingness to invite criticism, even if the criticism is negative.
Ironically, the video itself was rejected, in a way. And that’s OK—I didn’t have a lot riding on that video, in terms of my ego, and the rejection wasn’t one that was emotionally challenging. The rejection I received was that when I tried to use the video as the basis of advertising on facebook, it was rejected because the image had too much text in it. To make a point about being willing to make mistakes, I purposefully introduced or allowed possible roughnesses into the video, one of which was the significant use of text alongside the video/audio. This text showed up in the thumbnail of the video, and, as a result, when I posted it to facebook, the image included text. Hence the “too much text in image” rejection.
The effort that went into the video wasn’t wasted, even though it received a rejection for one of the specific purposes I had intended (advertising on facebook). The video is available to people who might be interested, and a friend of mine gave me a suggestion that was useful. And I learned in the process. All in all, it may have been rejected, but it’s no disaster.
The effect of having a work rejected can be more severe than the impact I faced, but a large part of the impact of having a work rejected is the emotional impact of that rejection, and if you approach feedback well, its negative emotional impact can be limited. Beyond the emotional impact, it’s very rare that a rejected work will cause any problems—rejected works are generally ignored after being rejected. For a graduate student, the risk of any harm beyond the emotional is pretty slight—professors don’t generally kick students out of programs for doing inadequate work, unless that’s a years-long pattern. A bad draft might make a professor less willing to help you in the future, but that’s a problem remedied by writing a better draft to follow up the weak one—especially a draft that incorporates the professor’s critiques.
The basic “you can’t win if you don’t play” trope is really a crucial one for graduate students who often get stuck “working” on a project rather than completing a draft to give to their professors. In the dissertation writing phase, in particular, students are given the freedom to continue working independently, with minimal need to produce concrete works.