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Best & Brightest Avoid Academia

Or vice versa. A group of academics decided to track what happens to bright kids over the course of a quarter-century and found that few of them wound up in academia. They might ponder why this is so.

“Although it would be difficult to quantify participants’ collective accomplishments in a single number, by any standard, it appears that many individuals identifiable by age 13 as having profound mathematical and verbal reasoning ability develop into truly outstanding contributors in their respective fields,” three professors from Vanderbilt wrote in a study which appeared in the journal Psychological Science. “Not only did participants choose prestigious occupations by age 38 but the organizations employing them were impressive as well.”

“ Although a number of our data counts do not reflect the quality of participants’ contributions, the organizations employing participants (e.g., Fortune 500 companies, major law firms, large medical facilities, and research universities) and bestowing awards on them (e.g., the U.S. Departments of State and Justice, the National Science Foundation, Intel Corporation, NASA, and The Wall Street Journal) afford reasonable quality appraisals of their creative products as well as the responsibilities, resources, and trust that they have earned. More than 7% of participants held tenure at research-intensive universities (including many considered the best in the world) by the time they were age 38.”

Psychological Science is published by the Association for Psychological Science. The study was co-authored by Harrison J. Kell, David Lubinski and Camilla P. Benbow of Vanderbilt. All three are psychologists.

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org.