Speaking of ambition and success (Friday’s post).. Last week I got a nice but bizarre email from my former advisor. He wrote: Among the pleasures of my life as a prof has been the opportunity to witness the great successes of some of my students, and you and Superstar Guy come to mind immediately of course. That was nice of him to say, even though I am not in the same league as Superstar Guy (you’d have to use a log-scale to plot us both).
My former advisor has had a lot of Ph.D. students, but only a small fraction are professors at R1 universities. [maybe he sent us all emails saying that he is particularly proud of Superstar Guy and (insert name)?!].
I am quite sure that my former advisor is proud of me because I have done well as a professor at an R1 university. He is definitely of the success is being a professor like me school of thought. If I had been spent my career thus far being an excellent teacher at a small liberal arts college, I am quite sure that he wouldn’t see me as so much of a ‘success’. Even so, I should say that although I don’t agree with that point of view, I am nevertheless pleased that he is proud of me. I have worked hard, I love my career, and it feels good to have accomplished what I have done so far.
The bizarre aspect of the email is that it came from someone who never said anything personal and never gave any but the lamest of praise ('nice effort') when I was a student. Even more bizarre, there is not a chance in the world that, back in the (grad school) day, my advisor would have imagined that he would one day consider me among his most successful students. It would have been too absurd to consider back then. Not remotely possible. Laughable.
When I was a student, my advisor had a large research group, including several ambitious male Ph.D. students with their sights set on jobs at R1 universities. I was quiet and, if asked, stated that my goal was to teach at a small liberal arts college, assuming I even got my Ph.D. from this program, which back then chewed up and spit out its few female grad students at an alarming rate. Among my advisor’s research group from that time, the only ones who got (and kept) jobs at R1 universities are Superstar and me. This fact amazes me to this day.
I hope that one day I am in a position to look back at my career and think similar fond and happy thoughts about my former students. In my case, though, I think that I will be equally proud of the science writer as the science professor. The point of this job isn’t to clone oneself and define success accordingly. That said, I admit that I would very much like to help increase the number of FSP’s in the world.