My PhD adviser was elected to the National Academy of Sciences yesterday. Not only does his membership recognize his accomplishments throughout his career, but it also acknowledges the work of those who helped him get there. My dissertation and publications are part of that package, but also the ideas we discussed that shaped the following grant and the next graduate student's project. In a sense my own worth is being recognized too.
His inclusion in the NAS has an even broader impact in my opinion. It is proof that someone can successfully move from industry to academia. My adviser spent many years working at a company, but he was able to move to a university because he never stopped publishing. Good papers are indeed a key to success. I joined his lab shortly after his move and his name was one other scientists recognized, even though he was not in a big name school. His membership to the NAS also shows that good science can be done outside the top 5 best ranked universities in the country.
Good ideas, hard work, publications. Recognition will come if there is something to recognize.