After Tyson finished his master’s thesis, his advisers dissolved his dissertation committee—essentially flunking him. “I still don’t talk about it much,” he says, “because it was a failed experiment, and I’ve moved on from that chapter of my life.”
As for his relationship with UT, Tyson claims he’s moved on. “I don’t hold a grudge, and I don’t blame the department for kicking me out. I might have done the same thing in their position,” he says.
But at other moments, it’s clear that he’s still raw about Texas, almost 30 years later. “When I get mail from the Texas Exes, it goes straight in the trash. Why should I believe in an institution that didn’t believe in me?”
That’s the way Tyson sees it: UT didn’t believe in him, while Harvard, Columbia, and Princeton did. “When I look at my life, the tracks of my success take a detour around Texas,” he says. “It’s the only place where I didn’t succeed, and I’m still figuring out what that means.”
So is the University. Astronomy professor Craig Wheeler remembers Tyson: “Research was not his strength. He was never going to solve any major scientific problems. But I knew he was going to do something big, because he had charisma. He’s warm and funny, but he also has serious backbone, ambition, confidence—and that’s taken him far.”
And so it has. But for Texas, he’ll always be the one who got away.
From an article about Neil deGrasse Tyson in the University of Texas alumni magazine.
It’s so easy to see people like Tyson who have had great success in life, and forget they may have had great failure as well.
Attrition from doctoral programs is high, with about 50 percent of doctoral students leaving without completing their program (NYTimes). For many of these students, this may be the first time they experience failure.
Ultimately what determines success is not the absence of failure, but how a person respond to it.
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- lacyfraz said: UT eats its young. After completing my masters there, I vowed NEVER to return to graduate school there. I’d almost forgotten, until I read this about a brilliant man who found success elsewhere.
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