On “Surviving” Rejection

As a mentor for the Faculty Fellowship Publication Program (FFPP) for the third year now, one of the recurring themes that keeps coming up in my groups is how to handle rejection. And although by “rejection” we may mean different things, the underlying question that our colleagues often ask is how to deal with rejection without taking it personally and in a non-emotional, objective way — so they can tackle whatever changes need to be made to their written pieces and move on.

The meritocratic ethos of the academic system makes us believe that if we work hard enough, play by the rules and do what we are asked, our lofty commitment (and sacrifices) to scholarly excellence will be acknowledged and, consequently, our jobs will be secured and the desired funding awarded. Unfortunately, that is no longer how academia works: the ongoing cuts to federal grants and the increasing pressure to publish — along with the backlash in the academic market — means that the scholarly cake has become smaller, while the number of those hungry for a piece of it keeps getting larger. Grant agencies and reputable publications are receiving many more submissions than they can possibly fund. Journals like “Nature,” as an example, currently reject more than 90% of submissions.

Not surprisingly, being rejected has many concrete effects in people’s lives and often feels deeply personal. To put it simply: Rejections sting and are either openly or secretly painful to many of us. And in my experience you can’t deal with rejection by just repeating the mantra “it’s not personal” over and over again. Indeed, quite the opposite is true: rejection feels personal because its effects can be devastating to one’s future career. After months of working hard on a grant application, a letter of rejection may lead to a frenzied panic — this may be the case for assistant professors going up for tenure as well as for senior colleagues who are counting on key external funding that will allow them to keep their laboratories and postdoctoral mentees afloat. Rejection is personal because being denied a fellowship leave may mean not being able to travel overseas to collect the precious archival data required to finish a book manuscript, just in time for the tenure application. Or it may mean not getting the invaluable release time that could lead to finishing a competitive grant before its deadline. Rejection is personal because all those weeks and months we spent working on a long project — often in isolation— meant taking time away from our families and kids, our friends and hobbies. And rejection is personal because, either openly or secretly, our academic egos are supported by the principle that our core self-worth is intrinsically dependent on the acceptance of our peers.

At the FFPP, we talk about learning how to perfect the scholarly craft of handling rejection, but we also open up about how rejection aches and how important it is to allow ourselves time to grieve and share our frustration, and get encouragement from people we trust. To that end, we are working on building a network of peer reviewers that will collectively contribute to creating a healthy community of scholars. We aim at developing strategies to enrich our intellectual and emotional lives with a view towards welcoming rejection letters as “just another day on the job” that will eventually lead to our articles and grant proposals being accepted — without hurting ourselves emotionally along the way. In fact, it is not just by learning to separate our academic work from our personal selves that we will become stronger fighters against the perils of academic rejection. It is by enriching our lives with “intellectual soul mates,” within safe and enriching spaces, that the pains of rejection are eventually turned into success.


What would be lost?

In my FFPP group, we often discuss the importance of discovering the “core” of your work–its main point–which can sometimes be hard to see after you’ve worked on a project for a long time.

There are several exercises that you can do to help identify the core of your work; one of them is developing the classic “elevator pitch.”

A couple of years ago I saw a colleague of mine ask a doctoral candidate: “if you did not complete your scholarship, what would the world lose?  What would your discipline or field lose?”

This is an amazing prompt, I think–and one that helps us see the importance of our work–and its urgency and significance.


–Carrie Hintz

On Distraction and Tomatoes

On Distraction and Tomatoes

I’m Carrie Hintz, one of the FFPP mentors; this is my second year working with the program.  I’m excited to be beginning our work in earnest this coming Friday.

I enjoyed Katherine Chen’s remarks about collaborative learning communities–and how FFPP worked for her in her early years at CUNY.  For more on writing groups–and perhaps some advice on sustaining your writing beyond FFPP–check out this practical and inspiring advice column by political theorist Claire Curtis, published in the Chronicle of Higher Education: “The Rules of Writing Group.”  Claire echoes a number of Katherine’s points and talks in very interesting ways about being held accountable by your writing group.

Today I wanted to write about distraction and carving out writing time.  A number of my colleagues, all at different stages of their careers, have been talking to me about how distracted (and of course distressed) they are by the news: glued to their Twitter feed, blown off course whenever an update comes in from the New York Times, endlessly sidetracked by stories and links popping up on their Facebook feed.  No wonder we are all feeling unable to concentrate; it feels increasingly urgent to be vigilant about what is going on at both national and local levels.  But our scholarship also calls us, and it too is urgent.

Even in happier times, it can be challenging to carve out time for your scholarship.  Many colleagues new to the profession tell me that they rely on stretches of time (holidays, mostly) where they can get some traction on their work.  Such open stretches of time are invaluable, and to be treasured, but the key to long term survival in the profession, I think, lies more in the ability to carve out smaller portions of time to write–and to not be pulled off track by email, class prep, housework, or any number of interpersonal obligations.

To do this—to seize those small increments of time–I have found the Pomodoro method invaluable.  In the Pomodoro method, you set either a kitchen timer (like one of the tomato-shaped ones that the method is named after) or a digital timer for 25 minutes, then have a break of 5 minutes, followed again by 25 minutes of work.  And so on. A video explaining the method can be found here.  You can get Pomodoro apps for your phone, tablet or laptop as well.

When I was first introduced to the Pomodoro technique, I was not sure it would work for me–but it has helped me with the following:

  1.  Conceiving of my writing as taking place in small increments of time rather than enormous, unbroken blocks of time–and that progress is absolutely possible within those smaller blocks.
  2. Resisting distractions for those 25 minute blocks of time–especially the urge to check email or the news. Often this resistance to distraction takes place 15 or 20 minutes into the writing session, where I can tell myself “only 5 or 10 minutes to go,” so no interruptions allowed.
  3. Taking regular breaks, which clears the mind and feels healthier physically and mentally.

I also find that the method works well if I am writing for long stretches and trying to “accumulate” several Pomodoros–but it works  equally well when I have a day with several meetings and classes–because maybe I can fit in one “pomodoro” writing session, which is better than nothing and makes the next day’s work easier.  This may not be the method for you, but I would certainly recommend it as one way to deal (in part) with these distracting times and get some writing done!





writing groups as collaborative communities

I’m Katherine K. Chen. To kick off the 2017 spring semester’s Faculty Fellowship Publication Program (FFPP) blog series, I briefly reflect on CUNY, the academic profession, and how writing communities can support and enhance scholarship.

First, a little about myself: I am one of the newest FFPP mentors, and I am also a FFPP alum-turned-mentor (colleague Stephen Steinberg was my mentor!).  Using ethnographic and other qualitative methods, I study how organizations develop.  I joined The City College of New York in 2008, so I am now approaching almost a decade at CUNY.

As some of you know, CUNY is a higher education institution with an unusual structure, consisting of the Graduate Center, where most of its PhD granting programs are concentrated, senior colleges that offer bachelors and masters, and community colleges that offer associate degrees.  Moreover, CUNY has a long legacy of propelling first-time, minority college-goers into the middle class and beyond.  Despite a crushing burden of working low-wage, dead-end jobs, caring for sick relatives, and intermittent homelessness in a high cost of living city, CUNY undergraduate students persevere in their belief that education matters. Working at the frontlines with CUNY students are CUNY instructors who are vibrant and accomplished. Besides publishing in the expected peer-reviewed venues, some also produce artwork, novels, and opinion pieces in widely read venues.

It’s difficult not to be inspired by the intellectual ferment of CUNY and the surrounding New York City. Nonetheless, universities and academic professions in general face increasing uncertainties as state support for higher education declines.   Meanwhile, neoliberal pressures are increasing, with demands that faculty demonstrate their market worthiness in numbers of students taught and graduated and funding awarded.  These pressures can make the university and academic profession feel alienating, particularly when the rewards structure is skewed.  Often, only one type of the work – publishing in peer-reviewed publications – is recognized in tenure and promotion while much of daily work – teaching students and undertaking service to maintain academic institutions and the profession – is uncounted and unrewarded.

It is easy to get lost when journeying in this milieu.  In particular, navigating the writing and publishing can involve taking a hike into the unknown. While maps exist, the details are often unmarked, requiring local knowledge and constant experimentation. Sometimes a more experienced guide may lead, or companions may join, making the journey lighter (or heavier).  While writing coaches and guides to publishing offer some assistance (my favorites of the latter include Wendy Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks and William Germano’s Getting It Published), people can more fully realize their potential when immersed in an active, supportive community.

Writing groups such as FFPP, where members meet regularly to give feedback on circulated work, offer an oasis of support, collegiality, and generativity.  For me, participating in FFPP and other writing groups has been crucial to advancing my scholarly development.  Such groups have facilitated difficult decisions to, for example, reframe manuscripts and cut out excess material; these gatherings have helped interpret cryptic reviewer comments and modeled potential responses to reviewers’ suggestions.  Moreover, reading other scholars’ works in progress helps us understand common writing and conceptual issues – it is much easier to identify problems and potential solutions in other people’s manuscripts!   Finally, it’s heady to be on the cutting edge of manuscripts that are on the verge of reaching a wider audience, especially given how long it takes for manuscripts to wend their way through the publication process.

With these thoughts in mind, I look forward to facilitating fellow FFPPers’ journey and learning from everyone’s work in the months ahead.  Welcome to spring 2o17!



Queer Methods Launches 12/8/16

Queer Methods Launches 12/8/16

Announcing the publication of Queer Methods, a special issue of WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly, coedited by FFPP Mentor and former Fellow Matt Brim (College of Staten Island).



Queer Methods presents pioneering feminist work on queer research practices across the disciplines and proudly features new poetry and prose selections by cutting-edge writers. WSQ is published by the Feminist Press at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.


Please join WSQ and the Feminist Press for the launch event of Queer Methods on Thursday, December 8th from 7:00-8:30pm at the Bureau of General Services–Queer Division, an independent queer cultural center, bookstore, and event space located in Room 210 of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center at 208 West 13th Street (between 7th Avenue & Greenwich Avenue) in Manhattan.



Welcome to FFPP!

Welcome to FFPP!

The Faculty Fellowship Publication Program (FFPP) is the only university-wide initiative of its kind.  Sponsored by CUNY’s Office of Recruitment and Diversity, FFPP supports CUNY’s institutional goal of a diverse, high achieving professoriate, the cornerstone of CUNY’s scholarly excellence.    The FFPP initiative assists full-time untenured faculty in the design and execution of writing projects essential to their progress toward tenure. Discipline-based writing groups of peers from across the University, facilitated by senior faculty members, provide fellows with feedback on their work, which may include scholarly articles for peer-reviewed journals, books for academic presses, or, in some instances, creative writing.

University Dean Arlene Torres
University Dean Arlene Torres

University Dean Arlene Torres leads the Office of Recruitment and Diversity, and Maryann McKenzie is her Deputy.  Shelly Eversley (Baruch College) serves as Academic Director.  FFPP Mentors and working group leaders for 2016-17 are:  Moustafa Bayoumi (Brooklyn College), Matt Brim (College of Staten Island), Katherine Chen (City College), Bridgett Davis (Baruch College), Carrie Hintz (Queens College), Lina Newton (Hunter College), Debbie Sonu (Hunter College), Stephen Steinberg (Queens College), Anahi Viladrich (Queens College).

Online Bibliography and Citation Tools

Online Bibliography and Citation Tools

There are some really great digital tools that can help you organize sources and assemble bibliography and works cited lists in the most common research formats.  These tools are easy to use, (mostly) free, and they save so much time:

Zotero is your personal research assistant.  It is a free browser based plug-in that allows you to collect, organize, cite, and share your research sources.  And it stores anything–PDFs, images, audio, articles, and websites–all in your personal “library.”  Don’t let the term “plug-in” scare you.  Once you download the tool, it lives in your browser, freeing up valuable time to focus on writing.  Zotero allows you to create footnotes, end notes, in-text citations, and bibliographies in every academic format.

Docear is a open source reference manager that offers PDF metadata retrieval, free online back up, and a monitoring function for new files (images, PDFs, etc.).  It also has an MS word add-0n.  You have full control over your data, and there is no registration requirement.

Bib Me is a fully automatic bibliography maker that auto-fills.  It provides an easy way to build a works cited page in MLA, APA, and Chicago formats.  A professional account allows you to save every bibliography.

Cite This For Me allow you to automatically create website citations in APA, MLA, Chicago, or Harvard formats.  It also comes with a Google Chrome extension.


Arab American Book Award

Arab American Book Award

Congratulations to FFPP Mentor Moustafa Bayoumi (Brooklyn College)won the 2016 Arab American Book Award for his This Muslim American Life:  Dispatches from the War on Terror (NYU 2015)!

51utfcluoyl-_ux250_His book argues “To be a Muslim American today often means to exist in a space between exotic and dangerous, victim and villain, simply because of the assumptions people carry about you. In the gripping essays in This Muslim American Life, Bayoumi exposes how contemporary politics, movies, novels, media experts and more have together produced a culture of fear and suspicion that not only willfully forgets the Muslim-American past, but also threatens all of our civil liberties in the present.”

His first book, How Does it Feel to Be a Problem:  Being Young and Arab in America (Penguin 2009), also won the Arab American Book Award as well as the American Book Award in 2010.