Saturday, April 16, 2016

Sitzfleisch, NOT "Passion, Tenacity, and Grit" advertises on radio to the effect that they will help employers find workers with "passion, tenacity, and grit" (=PTG).  And "grit" is now the term of art, combined with "resilience," to talk about how those less well off might succeed. (Those better-off benefit from ties and backgrounds that make PTG less important than manners.) It is striking that little is said about specific abilities in specific jobs, as if talents were not paramount in some fields.

In scholarly work, PTG is majorized by talent and Sitzfleisch. You have got to do the work, roughly on time, with the requisite quality and quantity. It helps to be "brilliant," but it matters more to have a modicum of talent and the ability to sit down at your keyboard and write and rewrite (of course having done the research). It also helps to make systematic connections in your field, disseminate your work, and train students. Distinguished professorships are for the most part occupied by well-behaved and likable yet qualified scholars. Similarly, membership in national academies surely depends on your being qualified, but as important is that a bunch of people feel like they owe you (rather than you owe them). One of the major tasks of academy members is to get their qualified institutional colleagues into the national academy.

Of course, there are extraordinary scholars, and some of them receive the distinguished professorships and academy memberships, but surely not all. We might say that the market for honors satisfices.

The message for you is Do Your Work, and keep doing it, publish and disseminate your work orally. And assume that if you are not doing this your unknown competitors are doing their work and publishing and disseminating.

For example, in a study in the history of mathematics, a lone American (A. A. Albert, U Chicago) cannot really compete with a school of German mathematicians (Noether, Hasse, Brauer...)--who as a group not only collaborate, but keep secret their progress yet elicit from the lone American his progress. So it surely helps to have terrific colleagues. But in the end, you have got to do the work. If you live long enough you might well receive recognition, and surely you or your students will be able to herald your achievements while the competition is now under ground.

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