Confessions of a researchaholic

April 6, 2010

How to deal with rejections

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 2:08 pm
Tags: ,

(If you are doing graphics research, you probably know that this is about the time every year for people to feel frustrated about rejections. So allow me to share my personal thoughts on this in the hope to make this world better.)

Theorem: life is a stochastic sampling process

Corollary 1: keep on trying

The whole paper submission and reviewing process is also stochastic. Out of the whole world of about 6 to 7 billion people, only 5 review your paper, and they, along with about 50 other committee members, decide the fate of your paper. For these papers that are either very good or very bad, the outcome would probably be the same regardless of who are the reviewers. However, since most papers are in the borderline gray area, they can easily end up in very different outcomes depending on who review your papers.

So, in a sense, getting upset about paper rejections is about as useful as getting upset at slot machines in a casino.

Now, assuming the review process is reasonably independent and unbiased (issues mostly beyond your control anyway), then the best way for variance reduction is to generate more samples. So, if you are tough and persistent enough and keep on submitting, in the long run your aggregate acceptance rate should approach your “intrinsic” value. In my personal case, I have huge yearly variations on acceptance rates, but my life time acceptance rate (so far) for SIGGRAPH is about 1/3, which I heard is about right for a reasonably good graphics researcher.

Corollary 2: do what you love

I hope it is not too late, but it is very important that you do what you absolutely love (instead of for any other reasons). This will give you more buffers to live through rejections. For me, I will not regret doing research even assuming all my future submissions are rejected.

Corollary 3: look for good things at other peoples papers (and look for bad things at yours)

I have seen multiple occasions where someone with rejected papers looked at the accepted ones and said: “These papers are not better than mine! How come they got accepted while mine got rejected?”

First of all, according to Corollary 1, this might actually be true due to the stochastic nature of the review process.

However, this might be (and likely is) untrue as well. It is human nature to evaluate their own work more highly than that of the others, so such a comparison is inherently biased.

More importantly, I do not see how that will help. Very few papers are perfect, so if one is accepted, it might as well have some merits, despite its apparent flaws. If you keep on looking for bad things instead of good things of the accepted papers, you will never learn why they are accepted, and thus keep on getting yours rejected.

So, I always try my best to look for good things in others papers. This not only motivates me to learn new things but also keeps me positive.
And when I look at my own papers, I always try my best to look for flaws and defects. Obviously, it is much better for me to spot and fix these before the reviewers have a chance to do so.

Corollary 4: quit whining

According to, among the world population, 50% live in poverty, 1% have a college education, and 1% own computers. So if you could manage to get papers rejected, you are in the lucky 1% minority. That is, you are 99% likely to have ended up in a situation where you will be worrying about other stuff rather than paper rejections. So quit whining.

1 Comment »

  1. […] It is not hard science: reviews are stochastic and humans are irrational. (See earlier posts about rejections, and how to deal with them.) […]

    Pingback by » About resubmission Confessions of a researchaholic — March 26, 2013 @ 7:25 pm | Reply

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