A Tale of Two Universities
A Tale of Two Universities

This month I have spent more time than usual visiting university campuses. My first visit was for pleasure – I played tourist at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA. This was a side trip after spending some time in Washington, DC during March Break / Spring Break.

College of William & Mary (Competence not Flash)

College of William & Mary (Williamsburg, VA)


My second campus visit was an even bigger pleasure, but officially I was there to speak with graduate students in the Applied Social Psychology Program at the University of Windsor about career options in Industrial / Organizational (I/O) Psychology. I loved the energy and enthusiasm of the grad students. I was happy to be able to share my thoughts on “Reverse Engineering” one’s career so that they can close the gap between where they want to end up professionally and where they are currently.

Mild Mannered and Understated

In my mind, the link between these two trips is not the obvious fact that both locations are university campuses. What made these two trips similar is that both institutions relate to a theme of my last blog post: understated competence.  Both of these universities have characteristics that give them special status as hidden gems. The College of William and Mary is a relatively small and understated university that’s often put into the same category as the Ivy League even though it’s a public institution. It’s the second oldest university in the United States, only Harvard is older. But even with its long history and high academic standing, it gets a lot less attention than the other “big name” schools like Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and the others.


College of William and Mary (Est. 1693)

College of William and Mary (Est. 1693)

Now, I’ll get back to my story. March 27, 2015, started really, really early – at 3:45 am so that I could catch an early flight and have a chance to reconnect with a former professor, Dr. Charlene Senn, prior to my talk. A few weeks ago, while attending a charity event in Ottawa, I met someone who had been a visiting scholar at the University of Windsor and had gotten to know Dr. Senn and her work. This visiting scholar attributes much of the foundation for the recent work on bystander intervention within the context of violence against women (e.g., #WhoWillYouHelp) to Dr. Senn.


I spent a few hours with Dr. Senn. She greeted me warmly at the airport. We enjoyed a gourmet coffee and lunch while catching up on the events of the 15 years that had passed since we’d seen each other. Although she did mention a huge research grant (over 1 million dollars which is exceptionally rare for Canadian research in the social sciences), she did not make reference to any of the current initiatives in place to encourage bystander interventions on campuses and elsewhere. Lucky for me, the visiting scholar had told me about Draw the Line (and organizations like the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women, OCTEVAW) and I’ve seen the public service announcements (e.g., #WhoWillYouHelp).

What This Means in Practice

The point I’m trying to make is that here’s someone who is clearly at the top of her game and has plenty that she could brag about yet she remains humble. In comparison, there are many who have accomplished 10% of what she’s accomplished and if I spent a few hours with them, I’d never get a word in edgewise.  My other former professors had also made significant contributions both on and off the campus – that’s the beauty of Applied Social Psychology. When it’s practiced well, the workplace, the community, and the field of healthcare all benefit.

uWindsor Mug competence, not flash

Souvenir from the University of Windsor


In the Ottawa area where I’ve lived and worked since graduating, I know several University of Windsor alumni who are successful in their own rights and they all have one thing in common: understated competence. They let their track record of accomplishments (e.g., awards, publications, positions held, income, etc.) speak for themselves. It’s rare that you’ll hear any of them describing their career highlights or proudest professional moments. Someday I should scrutinize their LinkedIn profiles to see if they’re complete! My suspicion is that there’s an understated inventory of their accomplishments …

My two campus visits also remind me of a second point: sometimes the humble and understated have spectacular abilities and potential yet the failure (of others) to recognize that talent can lead to huge missed opportunities.  Note to hiring managers and business owners – this point is especially relevant in the context of the recruitment and selection of employees. Try to get a real measure of past accomplishments, behaviours, and substance rather than falling victim to a great storyteller who’s a master at smoke and mirrors without a solid foundation.

If you’ve got questions or comments related to this post, I’d love to hear from you by emailTwitter, on Facebook, or LinkedIn.

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