Caitlin Kirby believes rejection is a natural part of success. Therefore, she stitched together her rejection letters to defend her dissertation.
Caitlin Kirby is a graduate student at Michigan State University. While defending her dissertation last year, she decided to wear a skirt made of all the rejection letters she received through the course of her doctoral program in earth and environmental sciences, the Lansing State Journal reports. She claimed it was a way to normalize rejection and remember that it is part of the process. Ultimately, the student ended up securing a grant through the Fulbright Program, an international exchange program that develops connections between citizens of the United States and folks from other countries.
Defended my dissertation & went viral with my rejection skirt one year ago! Career-wise this year I had many more rejections, but also completed a (mostly virtual) Fulbright & started a post-doc. I'm glad people appreciated my creative representation of failure & persistence. https://t.co/Meuosmy8Ot— Caitlin K. Kirby, PhD (@kirbycai) October 7, 2020
Kirby used a total of 17 rejection letters in order to "stitch" the skirt together. The letters came from scholarships, academic journals, and conferences. She printed each letter out, folded all of them into fans, and connected them in rows until they finally resembled a skirt. When she was done, the Ph.D. candidate even had a few letters left over. She said in an interview with the news outlet, "The whole process of revisiting those old letters and making that skirt sort of reminded me that you have to apply to a lot of things to succeed. A natural part of the process is to get rejected along the way."
Julie Libarkin, Kirby’s adviser and an MSU professor of earth and environmental sciences, saw eye to eye with her on rejection. "It’s a learning experience," she affirmed. "It’s part of life." As an educator, she makes sure students apply for every opportunity they come across. According to Libarkin, getting into the habit of facing rejection gives her students the experience they need to accept themselves. She said, "All of my students have been rejected from something and all of my students have earned significant accomplishments." Kirby added, "It seems counterintuitive to wear your rejections to your last test in your Ph.D. But we talked about our rejections every week and I wanted them to be a part of it."
Join me Sat, Apr 13 @ 2:30 for a free yoga class focused on environmental connection! So many elements of yoga incorporate environmental themes. The Fate of the Earth event will include lots of awesome workshops, speakers, and art on sustainability. https://t.co/AMkSCMEBDa pic.twitter.com/w1RNoe8T9S— Caitlin K. Kirby, PhD (@kirbycai) April 3, 2019
This is a particularly important lesson for the students at Michigan State University. Most of them have never been rejected from anything in their lives before entering college. Karin Hanson, director of employer relations for the MSU Career Services Network, explained that the school's students have always gotten the jobs they applied for, whether it be a high school job or their first job on campus. She noted that while it can be tough for them to face rejection for the first time, it always made them stronger in the end. She stated, "When I think about rejection, I think about how it builds grit." Kirby, who secured a grant through the Fulbright Program, will soon be leaving for Germany to complete her research project. She will depart in January and plans to apply for jobs once she returns to the United States. "So I’m gearing up to receive a few more rejection letters along the way," she joked. "Maybe I’ll make a longer skirt."