Why do rejected applications not receive feedback?

If you apply for an event that is designed to help you and your career, but are then rejected without the option of requesting constructive feedback. Is the event failing to achieve its aims?

 Rejections are horrible. Even the word rejection just sounds awful and instantly creates negative thoughts in your head about 'not being good enough'.. once you get over reading the words I think by far the worst feeling is if you are left wondering, 'but why? I thought I was perfectly qualified'.

This year I applied to SET for Britain. The idea of SET for BRITAIN is that researchers present their work to MPs and there are some prizes awarded to the best poster as an incentive.   

'The overall aim of SET for BRITAIN is (and has always been) to encourage, support and promote Britain's early-stage and early-career research scientists, engineers and technologists who are the "engine-room" of continued progress in and development of UK research and R&D, and ultimately of UK plc. Many will be Britain's future scientific and technological leaders and others will clearly be leaders in other fields. Such researchers are a vital asset and investment for the UK' 

I received an email today that my application was 'unsuccessful' and that feedback could not be given on my application.

My problem and issue with the SET for Britain application is that its primary aim, 'is to encourage, support and promote'. Rejecting applications (that are time consuming and take considerable effort) without feedback I feel does not fulfill the aims that they put forward. If you are running an event that is designed to help and support why is the whole process not structured in that way? Why do only the 'select few' receive help and support after they are deemed 'good enough'?

I don't think there is an argument here: rejected applications need feedback more than accepted applications.

I have written before on my PhD blog for jobs.ac.uk about the importance of critical feedback (and how to get it from your supervisor if they are not forthcoming). I know some people in their PhD suffer from overbearing 'critical' feedback from supervisor which can achieve nothing but dent the confidence of the receiver. Feedback should be constructive which means: critical, but actionable. A comment like, 'that isn't good enough' is of use to no man. However, being told, 'you need to gain more experience in X area' can help the person improve.

Back to the point of the SET for Britain application. The application consists of many parts including:
  • Abstract of research - is my research project not good/relevant/interesting enough for this event?
  • Lay abstract of research - (of particular importance to me) was my lay abstract not understandable? Did it not make the aims or point of my research clear?
  • Supervisor support letter - did my supervisor not say that I had done enough? Did they not make me out to be an appropriate candidate?
  • My background - is there something in my background that doesn't make me an appropriate candidate for this?
I made an investment into the application. Someone, somewhere read my application and made a decision based on what I had written. It would be incredibly helpful to me to know why this decision was made in order to help be be better and do better next time.

One excellent training event I did attend where feedback process had been properly thought through and was given at every step was Biotechnology YES (a entrepreneurial competition for scientists, with feedback and support and open to ALL). I cannot stress how rewarding and useful the training and competition is. If you are a PhD student in the UK make sure you get involved!

Just a note about me. I am open and tell people when I am applying for something, I will also openly tell people the end result (good or bad). I am not scared of rejection,  although I do admit I haven't experienced lots of it. I do not see it as something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about although it does/can knock confidence and make you feel rubbish.. My initial PhD application was rejected after interview, but my current supervisor offered me an alternative PhD. The person that was successful had a masters degree in a relevant research field, I did not. The decision making process was clear here and the course of action and outcome was completely logical and understandable. It was clear to me which areas I was lacking in expertise. With the SET for Britain application I cannot identify which parts I need to improve - and that worries me.

The aim of me writing this blog post is not to dispute the fact that I was unsuccessful and argue my case but to understand why I was rejected so I can make myself a better researcher.


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