In my opinion, based on non-scientific examination over decades first as a graduate student and then as a professor, the primary value of the middle level of talent (where most of us are if we are lucky) is usually referred to as "teaching" and might more generally be referred to as "socializing." An at least occasionally interesting teacher has the possibility of exciting interest in somebody of top talent, and has the near-certainty of exciting interest in many others who can become teachers.

Upon my graduation with a PhD from Caltech, I took a faculty position at the University of Rochester. I got funding, I plodded along. I had a crisis of confidence: the lesson I felt I had learned at Caltech was that "we" tolerate the bottom 99% because the results from the top 1% that our tolerance makes politically possible are more than worth it. As a prof. at UR, it was difficult for me to believe that I was anywhere near the top 1% of working research PhDs in the country. Years later, many of my graduate students hold VP and other leadership positions in industry: that is they are all apparently more productive than me. Considering the efforts they put in to getting me as an advisor and the efforts they put into getting my attention to talk through their projects once they were my students, it is reasonable to think that some part of their output is attributable to me.

More "Stupid" Questions

by NancyLebovitz 1 min read31st Jul 2013498 comments

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This is a thread where people can ask questions that they would ordinarily feel embarrassed for not knowing the answer to. The previous "stupid" questions thread went to over 800 comments in two and a half weeks, so I think it's time for a new one.