The next installment of our sharing-advice project. For the ten colleges who only hire “the best in five years” and for all of us as well.
Just a few weeks ago, I heard a fascinating, partly autobiographical talk by Richard Tapia, who is an applied mathematician at Rice, a National Medal of Science winner, and a (successful!) champion of under-represented minorities in STEM. He has given me permission to quote the following great line from his talk (one of many):
“I’m not the best, but I’m good enough.”
During my more than thirty years (and counting) of scouting, evaluating, interviewing, and discussing job candidates, I’ve never heard anyone admit that he or she was not “the best.” Nor have I ever heard my colleagues who have championed various candidates admit that one of them was not “the best.” Of course, the official policy of Yale and all other selective colleges and universities is that we only hire “the best” faculty and that we only admit “the best” students.
Think about it, folks. None of you is innumerate. That means that, deep down, you know that you cannot all be “the best.” Even the top departments in the country have hired (and tenured!) and admitted people who are not “the best.”
Following Tapia’s lead, I’d like to point out the completely obvious fact that the last time I personally was “the best” in my peer group was in high school. I wasn’t the best math undergrad at Harvard or the best CS grad student at Stanford or the best research staff member at AT&T, and I’m not the best CS faculty member at Yale. But I’m good enough to have made a go of it at every stage.
Next time you feel tempted to make an offer to the same (“best”) faculty candidate who’s likely to get offers from every CS department in the country and … surprise, surprise … to accept an offer from MIT, pause for minute. Look more seriously at some of your other candidates, particularly those who are members of under-represented minority groups. Perhaps some of them are not the best but are plenty good enough.