Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
February 6, 2023

Professional rejection hurts, but it will not define you or your future

By JESSICA KASAMOTO | March 5, 2020



Students should not fret if they are rejected from summer opportunities, others await.

A month ago, I wrote this column on advice for applying to summer opportunities — namely research and internships. I told you guys to do your research on opportunities, figure out what you want and apply. Apply apply apply apply. 

Hopefully, being a loyal Stem-Major Survival Guide fan like you are, you actually did. Hopefully it felt good. If you’re a self-proclaimed nerd like me, you’d realize that nothing is more of a dopamine rush than submitting things. 

It’s off your back. It’s done, and you don’t have to think about that application for a longggg time, until way way off into the far, distant future, which we certainly do not have time to think about right now seeing as we have three problem sets, two exams and a paper nipping at our heels.

But, alas, the future comes — we are here. Many of you are probably hearing back from the internships and Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs that you already applied to. Some of you, you lucky souls, may be struggling right now with what I like to call “first world problems,” also known as I-have-so-many-opportunities-how-will-I-ever-pick-between-them

This is not to diminish your current struggles! I, being the most indecisive being on the face of the planet, will always empathize with those faced with the challenge of decision making. 

It’s a hard thing to do; again, if you’re over dramatic like me, you feel like every choice you make has the ability to throw off your life for the worse and that the rest of your life depends on this one decision. 

First of all, take a deep breath, and realize that any opportunity gives you the chance to learn and grow. Worst case scenario, even if you end up hating your summer job, it’s still a valuable learning experience — you found one field/company/experience that you can cross out from your future plans. You’ll be okay. Realize that being accepted to multiple summer opportunities is a very good problem to have and just choose something! 

Pick an opp, your favorite opp. And pick it because you want to do it — not because you think your friends or your professors or Harvard Medical School or Silicon Valley or the Pope or mom and dad want you to do it. 

Don’t sacrifice yourself to make other people happy because you are the most important person in your life. Make yourself happy. Your resume will survive no matter what; we tend to overthink these things too much, since it probably won’t make that much of a difference resume-padding wise. 

Now go, you lucky souls, go! Go frolic off into the sunset with the rainbows and the butterflies and your multiple offers. Now it’s time to address the peanut gallery...

For some of you, your efforts may not have been met with such great rewards. You may have been turned down by a few opportunities you felt certain that you had a shot at. You may be batting zero, with very few opportunities to hear from left. 

You may be stuck with that one crummy job that was your very, very, very last resort. Your friend may have even gotten the job or gotten into the program that you wanted wayyyy more. This is mainly for you. 

The feeling of rejection sucks, and often it’s very hard not to take it personally. What does this rejection say about me? About my experiences? About the hard work I’ve put in for the past couple of years?

As I told your luckier peers, take a deep breath. Take a cool down lap. Drink a smoothie. Go find your best friend, your boyfriend, your mom, your dad or your hamster and just cry it out for a little bit. 

No one is judging you; we’ve all done it — even the most perfect, put-together people who have 4.0’s and research opportunities and scholarships and nice hair. Whether many of us are likely to admit it or not, we’ve all faced this kind of rejection and disappointment at some point in our lives. 

No matter what the mean voices in your brain tell you, rejection doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It could mean that you could have benefitted from applying to a few more programs/jobs. It could mean that your resume crafting could have been a little bit better. It could mean that maybe some of the other candidates had different experiences and qualities that made them slightly more qualified for the job. 

It could be because the person reading your resume had an ex-girlfriend with your same name and threw you out immediately. It could be dumb, stupid luck of the chaotic, cruel universe. It could literally be any of those things — none of which make you a failure in anyone’s book.

So please, mope for a little bit. Go ahead — I give you permission. Cry it out, and get it out of your system. But please, after you do — bounce back. 

If you were only accepted into your last resort opportunity, stay positive. Take the offer. It may end up being more fun than you think, even if it’s not the greatest resume padder. Again, please take resume padding with a grain of salt. As was previously established, it’s easy to be over dramatic about these things and it probably matters less than you think. 

Even if you have no opportunities at all, you can still bounce back. Get your resume looked over by the Life Design Lab. Re-craft your cover letter. Start looking into different options for this summer, like volunteering, non-academic jobs or shadowing opportunities. 

The possibilities are endless! Email some smaller companies in Baltimore or in your hometown and see if they are still looking for volunteers or interns. 

If after all that, everything still falls through, you can still find a way to make the summer worthwhile, even if it is not the way you originally planned. Become a tutor, learn a new programming language or take an online class; learn and do things that may be beneficial to you in the future, whether or not they look impressive on a resume. 

Just because things didn’t go as planned doesn’t mean you have to do absolutely nothing. You have to do absolutely nothing if you make the conscious choice to do absolutely nothing. Don’t. Be. That. Person.

One summer won’t make or break you. I know it’s hard to see when we’re at a school that’s so focused on these kinds of things, but seriously, you can be employed in the future without curing cancer every single summer during your undergrad years. 

Internships like these are extremely competitive — just because you didn’t get something this summer doesn’t mean you won’t find something after graduation. Keep working hard, keep learning and keep bettering yourself. As I say here every issue, it’ll be okay. I still believe in you. And you still got this. 

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