Comparing Harvard Professors Pinker and Nock


Harvard University is one of the best institutions globally, which attracts millions in funding and has a range of highly accomplished professors. Indeed, one of the key elements, which make Harvard education so sought-after and valuable, is the teaching staff. Throughout the decades, a variety of pioneers in science, technology, and arts have been awarded the opportunity to educate the next generations of Harvard graduates. The following essay focuses on comparing and contrasting two of Harvard University’s most prominent professors in the Department of Psychology, Steven Pinker, and Matthew K. Nock. While both of these professors are highly accomplished and have a lot to share, Nock does a better job at engaging with his students and facilitating a cooperative educational environment.


Steven Pinker is a cognitive psychologist from Canada who is a best-selling author and an acclaimed public speaker as well. Pinker specializes in developmental linguistics and cognition in his role as the Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology (Blasdel, 2021). He has served in this position for almost twenty years, starting in 2003. Matthew K. Nock is a Department Chair who teaches regular courses on “statistics, research methods, self-destructive behaviors, developmental psychopathology, and cultural diversity” (Harvard Department of Psychology, n.d., para. 2). As a professor, Nock has received several special recognition awards in teaching, such as the Petra Shattuck Prize as well as the Roslyn Abramson Teaching Award.


In regards to similarities, it is first important to acknowledge that both professors are experts in the field of psychology. Thus, they have the information and insights needed to create a challenging academic curriculum for their students. In addition, they both often initiate discussions or reply to students by drawing back from their own experiences in the area. Having a diverse and successful background in academia ensures that students can rely on Pinker and Nock to share guidance and indicate some of the pitfalls to avoid. Despite being rather busy, both professors prioritize one-on-one professor-student interaction. With this purpose in mind, they allow students to contact them either on campus or online during dedicated hours for any additional questions, clarifications, or discussions.


As for the differences, it is evident that Pinker and Nock approach the teaching profession rather differently. Pinker prioritizes structure and aims to distance himself from his students to facilitate a traditional learning environment. On the other hand, Nock partially rejects the idea of authority as it relates to teaching. His strategy is to befriend the students as much as possible and make them comfortable enough to open up and engage with others in the class as well. This way, the learning environment is cooperative, and not hostile. After all, the overall mood of a lecture hall is of importance since students are much more likely to attend and participate in discussions where everyone feels welcome and envisaged to contribute.


In conclusion, two professors teaching at the same Department of the same university can have their similarities and differences. While Steven Pinker focuses on formality and puts some limitations on the casualness of the learning environment, Nock does the opposite. He engages students through informal discussions, cooperative assignments, and fun activities. Despite that, both professors aim to challenge their students throughout the courses by offering new perspectives on well-known concepts based on their insights.


Blasdel, A. (2021). Pinker’s progress: the celebrity scientist at the centre of the culture wars. The Guardian. Web.

Harvard Department of Psychology. (n.d.). Matthew K. Nock. Web.

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ChalkyPapers. 2022. "Comparing Harvard Professors Pinker and Nock." November 3, 2022.

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ChalkyPapers. "Comparing Harvard Professors Pinker and Nock." November 3, 2022.