Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Are you an acadmic redneck if...

...your academic family tree doesn't branch?

I never heard of academic family trees until I started grad school. Herb likes to talk about his academic offspring (aka former students), sometimes confusingly without the necessary prefix 'academic.' Once he started talking about his granddaughter which threw me for a loop since his kid isn't old enough to have kids. Herb is my academic father and his graduate advisor is my academic grandfather. The family tree analogy starts to break down when referring to committee members- are they aunts and uncles or what? But that's probably besides the point.

Through coincidence or lack thereof, my academic family tree with advisors, committee members, and unofficial mentors who have been influential is not as branched as some.

Figure 1 (above): Karina's academic family tree. Arrows indicate direct non-'parental' influences such as committee members (black) and mentors who are not official advisors (blue). Lines without arrows indicate academic parent/offspring relationships.

Case 1: SFC Mentor. Herb and I have the unlikely shared experience of attending the very same Small Friendly College (a few decades apart). Even more unlikely, his peer mentor (just one year ahead of him in school while he was at SFC) returned to teach at SFC and wrote my letters of recommendation for grad school. I had no idea about all of this when I initially contacted Herb about being in his lab.

Case 2: Sam, my committee member and expert on Ukenzagapia, is also my academic brother. He finished his Ph.D. some years ago with Herb.

Case 3: Melody, my only female committee member, is the academic sister of Cora, my best friend from high school who just got her Ph.D. and has been influential in helping me think about different ways to conceptualize my research.

A certain amount of convergence along the academic lineage of mentors and students seems to be inevitable in many fields, but how much is too much?

Will my intellectual lineage suffer from inbreeding depression? To offset the potential insularity of all of his graduate students (not just my inbred self), Herb has prescribed regular perusing of real, paper journal issues, attendance at conferences, and conversations with ecologists from other institutions.


Wayfarer Scientista said...

Unfortunately, in many fields the number of breeding pairs is often quite limited!

Liberal Arts Lady said...

Hah, I love the figure. I wonder if my going into a SLAC is a secret disappointment to my advisor - she'll never get any academic grandchildren though me!

Albatross said...

My tree is a huge mess (but I really want to blog it now!). What about when academic trees meet real life trees? My current PI and my husbands PhD advisor both had the same postdoc advisor.

EcoGeoFemme said...

Great figure!

My tree doesn't branch much either, although it could have been worse. There was almost an opportunity to have my advisor's advisor on my committee.