Silver linings in unsuccessful applications


For early career researchers, applying for jobs and fellowships can be a good opportunity to network, learn and develop new research directions with leaders in their field.  There can be big benefits – even if the application is unsuccessful.

As an ECR, I’ve applied for several fellowships, post-docs and academic positions, and certainly chalked up unsuccessful applications in the process.  While thwarted attempts are disappointing and frustrating, and can seem a waste of time, looking back there have been big benefits for me from each endeavour.  Invaluable experience and new collaborations are among the profits.  Preparing an application with a new potential collaborator has proven an opening to impress field leaders who have subsequently offered me other opportunities, irrespective of the application outcome.  Interview panel members who decided I was not the best candidate for that position, nevertheless later offered other opportunities.  I think it is important to acknowledge the good things that have come from unsuccessful applications.  I learned so much, that without doubt contributed to my successes.  Making contact with great researchers, either through grant writing or interviewing, was key.  It allowed me to showcase my skills, and I thank these researchers for offering me the unexpected opportunities that arose from unsuccessful applications.  Here are some examples of the silver linings:

Invaluable experience

  • grant writing skills from experienced academics with excellent track records, from both Australia and abroad
  • useful experience in and feedback from interviews that helped me prepare better for future interviews
  • great bench-mark for how fantastic interviews and university visits can be
  • insight into how different universities and granting bodies function
  • improvement of my application style and CV
  • increased efficiency in preparing applications, by better identifying and responding to key criteria
  • understanding the transferability of my skills
  • insight into how different applications are ranked, especially by examining successful applications generously shared by colleagues
  • benefits of asking for advice
  • kept up with latest developments in my field
  • opportunity to organise my thoughts, identify gaps in research, develop new research directions in the process of preparing applications

Unexpected opportunities

  • formed new, long-lasting professional relationships with leaders in my field
  • found mentors and champions
  • invited to be journal guest editor
  • financial support to prepare a substatial research proposal, developing new research directions
  • invited to be part of a working group
  • employed by new collaborator from existing funds
  • offered co-supervisor role of a PhD student