Tis’ the season for professional recognition. The world is abuzz with announcements of who won this year’s Nobel Prizes. Psychology doesn’t have a Nobel Prize (though one of our own, Daniel Kahneman, won one in 2002). But psychologists like to make lists.
Recently, three researchers compiled a list of the 100 most eminent psychologists in the modern era (post-World War II). Several patterns caught my attention:
- Most psychologists did not achieve great eminence until at least age 50. This number is at odds with some reports that scientists often make their major breakthroughs between ages 35 and 40.
- The eminent psychologists experienced what I call the Publishing Paradox. They published many articles, but their eminence was due to only one or two publications. Few of their publications had any impact on their perceived eminence.
- Women and members of minority groups compromised a small percent of the list. This is a cause for concern as we embark on a time in the academy when diversity of experience, perspective, and background is most needed.
What can the list teach us? Eminence requires hard work that takes place over a long period of time. There are no short-cuts. People also must accept that most of their daily work will have no bearing on their perceived eminence. Fall in love with the process. Stay the course. Let others decide the outcome.