Desert Flour

A 20-Something's Musings on Life, Love and Faith

Leave a comment

Thick Skin in the Professional World

There’s a reason phrases like – “Never let them see you cry” or “Emotions are for the weak” are consciously, or unconsciously, adopted by a significant portion of Corporate America. To be successful you need the winning combination of skills, determination, luck and emotional fortitude.

The ability to act rationally, without allowing your emotions to interfere with your work is a highly valued skill for many positions.

I wouldn’t say you need this same kind of extreme corporate behavior in the realm of psychology, but you do need to grow some thick skin – or you’ll fail.

That ability to take space away from your gut reaction to a situation can help you when working with patients or research participants.  If they reveal some harrowing experience of trauma or abuse – they don’t need your shock and horror, they need some more appropriate response to help them manage their own emotional turmoil. You have to be the one to gain some external perspective – and not be consumed by their subjective experience.

Similarly this kind of critical thinking applies to the world of psychology research.  When you receive negative feedback from your professional colleagues or government institutions on projects towards which you’ve devoted countless hours of passion and energy, you have to respond with humble grace and carry on a constructive dialogue.

Rationally I know this.

I know the motions you are supposed to go through and the words you should be saying when you receive harsh criticism – “I appreciate your thoughtful comments, these will help improve the ultimate quality of the piece….yadda yadda..”

But still.

This week I finally received feedback on my first manuscript I submitted as first author (meaning I created this article from the ground up: did the background literature review, collected all the participant data, analyzed the data for significant statistical findings, created the tables and figures, reported my conclusions, edited the article to match the journal’s stylistic specifications and submitted it 6 weeks ago feeling quite self-satisfied).

And then, I receive:

“The reviewer(s) had significant concerns about the manuscript but also judged that it has potential to be publishable.”

What did I see in this opening email line?

Significant concerns… Significant Concerns……SIGNIFICANT CONCERNS


Concerns?? And they’re significant??

(Oh and the other additional horror feeling coming from my realization that I submitted this same manuscript version to all of my graduate schools as my writing sample and now I know my peer reviewers have significant concerns with the article so did I also sabotage my applications into graduate programs because of this early bravado? Why would I have submitted that ahhh!)

I know now I definitely submitted this first article with the naïve pride of a young professional thinking everyone will love this work I did! I mean I got great grades on all of my school papers – why should this scientific community think any differently?

Womp. Womp.

Hello reality check.

I realize also, the editor was sending me a rejection with suggested major revisions – but that they were also still interested in the topic and invited me to resubmit it again for further review.

Still – I am obviously a work-in-progress when it comes to growing some of that professional thick skin. I was feeling pretty crushed the first two days after receiving the reviewer comments.  They didn’t feel the discussion was nuanced enough, they didn’t like my title, they were confused that I didn’t distinguish between participants and patients more distinctly.

I took two days and set it aside for a while. But then now as I am starting to work through some of the comments in more detail, I will still bristle at things I disagree with – using “written” vs “documented” – but overall the reviews are from insightful professionals that will help improve the quality of the manuscript.

I needed to give the manuscript some space when I first received their reviews – but I can now approach it with a mind towards making the necessary changes.

I am doing important work! And I will happily jump through your recommendation hoops to get it out there!

But more seriously – I learned some important self-humbling from this first review. I may approach my next submission with more caution. I know I’ll still be hopeful they’ll approve of my work, but, ideally, in the future I’ll also be a bit more prepared to handle some of the criticisms I will inevitably receive.