Ask us anything: how do you celebrate good professional news?

What are your favorite ways to celebrate good news–papers published, grants funded, tenure received, etc.? What’s the most interesting such celebration you’ve ever heard of? (from Margaret Kosmala)

Jeremy: When I got my first paper accepted, I jumped as high as I could, punched the air, and shouted “YES!” This may have disturbed people in nearby offices. 🙂

After Calgary hired me, I took out all the rejection letters I’d gotten for all the faculty positions I’d applied for, and ceremonially tore them up. (No, I don’t know what I’d have done with them had I never gotten a faculty position…)

I celebrate my graduate students’ successful thesis defenses with a tradition I stole from my own supervisor, Peter Morin. I buy two bottles of champagne, which get drunk at the post-defense celebration. The student then signs and dates both bottles, keeping one as a memento for themselves and leaving the other for me. I line them up on a shelf in my office. So far I only have a couple. Peter has a big shelf full, which looks super-cool.

A colleague of mine has students sign a deer skull after their successful thesis defenses.

Brian: In general, I think academics don’t celebrate often enough. Just for example, I encourage all my PhD students to actually go to graduation because its about the only time you ever slow down and appreciate what the major accomplishment you’ve made instead of focusing on the next to do.

Champagne bottles after defenses seems to be a very common theme.

For more minor things (e.g. paper acceptance), a little celebratory music is apropos (I lean classically so the Hallelujah Chorus or Beethoven’s Ode to Joy or such). Actually just taking time to take a break and go for a walk or treat yourself to a nice and slow lunch is not a bad idea.

15 thoughts on “Ask us anything: how do you celebrate good professional news?

  1. I have the row of signed champagne bottles too, a tradition I inherited from my own supervisor, Bob Ricklefs. But amongst them sits on cherished (but now empty) bottle of Lagavulin, courtesy of a student who graduated to a well-paying job and insisted that champagne wasn’t for him! If it wasn’t breakfast time at the moment, I’d be salivating right now 🙂

  2. Yes, corks are usually popped when my PhD students successfully complete their vivas, though it’s always complemented with something non-alcoholic for the Muslim or otherwise tee-total students and staff.

    Other causes for celebration are treated in different ways, depending on circumstances. It’s not unknown for me to get up in a meeting and cross the floor to bear-hug a colleague when I’ve just had news of a significant paper being accepted. Ditto successful grant applications.

    When I had the phone call from the Vice Chancellor to tell me I’d been successful in my application for a full professorship I recall that I put the phone down, lowered my forehead to my desk, and breathed quietly and deeply for some minutes, just absorbing the news. Later, we cracked open a bottle of champagne at home and I burst into tears, just a release of emotion!

    And of course good news often ends up on my blog 🙂

  3. From the grad students at Cornell I learned a very excellent way of celebrating. They celebrate the submission of papers. This is a good thing to celebrate because it is something in your control. By the time the eventual acceptance comes around it is both old news and out of your control. They call it cognac. In our group we take over the faculty lounge and I make the drink of their choice, being sure to also have interesting non-alcoholic drinks available, and something to munch on, nuts if nothing else. I agree celebrations are important.

  4. We pretty much celebrate any positive decisions – publications, grants, fellowships, etc. – with sparkling wine, though for Nature and Science champagne is expected and larger grants should provide also finger food. Normally the closest collaborators plus the whole lab is invited. Defenses are then (much more) codified celebrations with differences between groups on particular traditions.

  5. Our department has a slightly different champagne-defense (and A-exam) tradition- we hold the post-defense party in the lab, and make sure we pop the champagne bottle hard enough to hit the ceiling tiles. Each student gets to sign and date the dent they made. The whole history of lab success and celebration is written on the ceiling!

  6. Wow, a lot of alcohol! Almost all of my big achievements have come when I’ve been pregnant (and therefore not imbibing). I guess the idea of a celebratory drink (of whatever kind) is the key here. I’d love to hear more celebration stories!

    • “I guess the idea of a celebratory drink (of whatever kind) is the key here.”

      Yes, that’s the key. I hope that none of my lab celebrations would ever have made any non-drinkers uncomfortable. I don’t think they would’ve, we just raise a celebratory–and small–glass; we don’t get drunk. And if the student being celebrated were a non-drinker, I’d certainly substitute sparkling apple juice or some other suitable beverage for the champagne.

    • The building I used to work in was right next to the campus creamery, making an ice cream outing an easy, non-alcoholic way to celebrate.

  7. In Germany, at your post-defence party (PhD) you get a customized graduation cap. For that usually fellow grad student and other lab member get together and decorated a graduation cap with items, etc. that reflect your research or/and personal anecdotes. It is a really nice reminder of your time as a PhD-student. At some universities their are even contest “how got the coolest cap”.

    • You mean failed thesis defenses? Or other sorts of failures?

      Failed thesis defenses are rare, but they happen. They never come out of the blue in my experience–it’s always clear way in advance (often years in advance) that a student is at serious risk of failing to put together a defensible thesis. The reasons vary, but it’s never down to just bad luck in my experience. Usually, it’s a student who’s consistently and stubbornly failed to heed the supervisory committee’s advice. As a supervisor, you try to do all you can to prevent things from ever getting to that point. And you do what you can to protect yourself (students who are on track for failure know it (and should know it), and often become adversarial). Make sure you’re following university policy, make sure there’s a paper trail documenting everything, make sure you’ve been talking informally with your head of dept.

      Rejected grants and papers are part of life in science. They happen to everyone, even the biggest names.* You just have to learn from them and move on. Doing good science is hard, and it never gets any easier.

      Failed experiments and other studies that don’t pan out are a part of scientific life too. They happen to everyone, me very much included.

      *And as an aside, they happen because even smart, well informed, well intentioned people disagree with each other about what science is most interesting and important. I add that because there’s a tendency to see them as somehow unfair or a sign of some flaw in the peer review system.

    • Its certainly a relevant question! My lab group was shocked when I told them my reject rate on paper submissions was probably over 50%. And I mentioned before that the researcher on my campus who gets the most grants also is rejected the most.

      It does get easier as time goes on. When you’ve been rejected dozens of times but also accepted dozens of times, its pretty ho hum to be honest. But the first couple of papers where it feels like a judgement on your life’s work it is pretty intense either way.

      I think a few key points:
      1) Take a breath and put it away for a while. Don’t dive right into the details of what the reviewers said. You have to do it eventually, but it is detrimental to the processing of the rejection itself to read the details (because in the moment every comment will seem either wrong-headed or else so right that it is another turn of the knife).
      2) I suppose this varies from person to person, but I think most people find talking about it to other people helps. I think the thought that forms almost immediately upon receiving a rejection is “I’m the only person” (because we mostly only see the successes of others, not their failures). So just breaking out of that thinking and talking to people (and hearing everybody talk about their failures) is very therapeutic.
      3) Some people enjoy mocking or at least reclaiming the message. I know a lab that has a “wall of shame” where they post all of their paper and job rejections on a bulletin board. This has a bit of #2 to it, but it also just turns the message to one of humor. There is a great deal of joking and laughing about the “wall of shame”. One of my first papers for my first rejection got wildly divergent reviews from excellent to (and I still remember this) “not even really a result”. I printed out these contradictory quotes and posted them on my door for a while. It reminded me the review process is subjective and not perfect.
      4) Do something else. This could be taken to mean do something else professionally (e.g. work on another paper) so you regain a sense of control. It could also be taken as do something else as in take a break – go for a hike, go dancing, go to a ball game, etc. Both are productive.

      Really curious to see other people’s suggestions.

      • After months of working on a large grant proposal earlier this year, it was finally submitted by a mid-July deadline and I sat back and took a deep breath. Within 48 hours it had been rejected without peer review because of a couple of technical issues (specifically a CV in the wrong text point size, and a document that was a page too long).

        I was furious and cursed the unfairness of it all, but mostly I was cross with myself for not spotting what were really dumb errors. Longer term my response was your number 4, Brian: I ignored it for a couple of months and have just now gone back to it to revise it with my collaborators, and to resubmit it later this year, when it will be a stronger bid and, I hope, more likely to be funded.

      • Thanks a lot for all the suggestions.
        Yes, I meant how to deal with paper rejections, job rejections,
        bad performance on something (interview, presentation) etc.
        If you do not mind, please take this question to ask us anything! I will very glad to learn from you three and the comments.

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