What to Wear to a Successful PhD Thesis Defense? A Skirt’s Worth of Academic Rejection Letters

Some people are paralyzed by rejection.

Others, like Michigan State University’s Earth and Environmental Sciences PhD candidate, Caitlin Kirby, sport rejection like a mantle of honor... or more accurately, a pleated skirt falling to just below mid-thigh.

"Successfully defended my PhD dissertation today!" Kirby wrote in a Tweet that has since garnered over 25,000 likes. "In the spirit of acknowledging & normalizing failure in the process, I defended in a skirt made of rejection letters from the course of my PhD."

The custom garment, which Kirby teamed with a dark blazer and red waistband, was organized in two tiers, with a tulle ruffle peeping out beneath.

MSU’s Career Services Network’s Director of Employer Relations, Karin Hanson, told the Lansing State Journal that rejection comes as a shock to many high achieving MSU students.

Kirby’s decision to upcycle 17 disappointing letters received over the course of her academic career was partially inspired by a Parks and Recreation episode in which the skirt of Leslie Knope's wedding dress is a wearable collage of newspaper articles about the character, drawn from earlier episodes

More to the point, Kirby’s skirt is part of an ongoing campaign to acknowledge rejection as a necessary, if painful, part of academic growth.

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. 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.

And, as she later noted in a tweet:

Acceptances and rejections are often based on the traditional values of academia, which excludes POC by not valuing the approaches, research questions, and experiences that POC tend to bring to their work.

Kirby’s letters were culled from a variety of sources—scholarship applications, submissions to academic journals, and proposals for conference presentations.  Unfortunately and We regret to inform you are recurrent motifs. About 8 letters were left on the cutting room floor.

But she is prepared to lower her hemline, when she starts applying for jobs, following a stint at the Research Institute for Urban and Regional Development in Dortmund, Germany, the result of a successful Fulbright application.

Follow Kirby’s example and turn your temporary setbacks into a power skirt, using the tutorial above.

via Boing Boing 

Related Content:

Read Rejection Letters Sent to Three Famous Artists: Sylvia Plath, Kurt Vonnegut & Andy Warhol

T.S. Eliot, as Faber & Faber Editor, Rejects George Orwell’s “Trotskyite” Novel Animal Farm (1944)

Gertrude Stein Gets a Snarky Rejection Letter from Publisher (1912)

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, December 9 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain, resurrects Dennison’s Christmas Book (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.


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