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Grad Student Defends Her Dissertation in a Skirt Made From Rejection Letters To Help ‘Normalize Failure’


A Michigan PhD student defended her thesis while wearing a skirt made from rejection letters received while studying.

Caitlin kirby

To make the staggered number in black and white, 29-year-old Caitlin Kirby printed 17 of her rejection letters (from scholarships, scholarly journals, and conferences) and then folded them into a fan shape. She connected them in a row, and at the end she had an item that looked like a skirt.

She said Lansing State Journal that the idea behind his unique garment came from a desire to normalize rejection and take pride in overcoming it. “The whole process of going through those old letters and making that skirt reminded me that you have to apply a lot to be successful,” she said. “A natural part of the process is to be rejected along the way.”

Caitlin’s advisor Julie Libarkin, professor of earth and environmental sciences at Michigan State University, also encourages acceptance of failure in her students.

Libarkin believes that it is important for students to get into the habit of requesting things and to get used to the feeling of rejection, so he encourages them to pursue any opportunity that comes their way. If a student does not get the scholarship or the place in the academic journal? It’s okay. They will still have learned something in the process.

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As for Caitlin? His rejections over the years have led to great things: Since his doctorate, he won a prestigious Fulbright Fellowship to do more research on urban agriculture in Germany.

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Currently, she is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. As for what the future holds? “I’m getting ready to get a few more rejection letters along the way,” Lansing State Journal joked. “Maybe make a longer skirt.”

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