Tag Archives: academic ancestry

A Regular Family Business Part Deux

I have touched more on family here than I think I intended. But, while that train is rolling, let’s just ride for a while. There is something interesting when you start looking at your family tree. I have mentioned before how in just a few generations you are directly related to more people than populated England in the 16th century. The idea that from all those strains you take your name from one, and hang some sort of cultural, ancestral, and /or genealogical identity on that is rather odd. I am sure it happens to others, but my case is really interesting since the only side of my family that has not been in America since the opening of the 17th century is the side I get my surname from.

Granted, that side also connects be to crazy people like Alexander “Bokhara” Burnes and Robert Burn(e)s. Their grandfather is my Great^7 Grandfather. We were the lucky younger children who, instead of inheriting land and titles, moved to the United States. Interesting side note, while on a trip to Vancouver, B.C in order to get engaged, my girlfriend and I had left the aquarium and was walking through Stanley Park, where a lovers of Robert’s poetry society had erected a statue of the bard. It seemed rather fitting that I proposed to my girlfriend by the statue of my cousin and in a fell swoop soon remove all of her ancestry and replace it with my last name. This idea of who you are just gets more and more ridiculous, doesn’t it?

While we are picking and choosing a new system arises when one goes to university. Especially when one goes to university and stays for as long as I have. You get an academic genealogy. Your faculty family tree can go directly through mentors/advisors and without giving you something like a name that people can hang your identity on for you, you get the benefits of all those academic ancestors who have studied before. Phd-comics has a neat little comic that highlights this phenomenon:

See how troubling something like this can be–and this from February 9, 2011. But I have talked to some people about having people that are their advisors serving on my committee and that making us academic cousins. So, there is something to this. After all I have been told that the Germans take this very seriously and refer to their advisors as “Doctor-Father.” Not sure if that changes to Doctor Mother in some cases. Come to think of it I know several people who refer to their advisors as a Mother—-ahem, that’s not what we are here to discuss.
Mine is something of an interesting case, again because I think so, because it’s geography parallels by real ancestry. Without getting too technical or deep into the politics of how this works, I will run the circle for you. I am currently studying at the University of Oklahoma. I received a Master’s at Lamar University where my mentor–Dr. Jim Westgate–my doctor father if you will– still works. Jim studied at the University of Texas-Austin under Drs. Ernie Lundelius and the recently passed Wann Langston, Jr. (top right)  Wann studied at the University of Oklahoma under John Willis Stovall. (above left). Wann and John named Acrocanthosaurus atokensis in a 1950 publication. If you remember in an earlier post I talked about my family living in Atoka at this time and working their fields that were within walking distance of the Acrocanthosaur find. (If you don’t remember it’s the earlier post Dino Dynasties)
I am on the left, Dr. Jim Westgate on the right, and
an academic sibling Jordan Mika.
Something to think about. Your academic ancestry can be direct or even branch out if you so choose. But, be warned, if one of your academic Aunts’s doctor-father was someone of imminent note, and you bring that up in casual conversation, it could do you harm–especially if your new forced family members like to use your extended advisor-in-law’s books for their classes.
Which is sillier? To mark who you are because of so many random decisions along the way, or mark how you think because of some random decisions along the way? Truth is, they are all interconnected in ways that are probably past the point of comprehension. Sure, there are no academic genetics that help structure your actual being, but if you stay in long enough, you will pick up on and adopt certain things which your advisor does. It is likely, that what they do is in some form a piece of what they inherited from their advisor and so on. So, while your non academic evolution as a person, as an individual with a surname might be considered standard under the Darwinian model, it sure looks like Educational Evolution still follows Lamarckian principles.
Keep sticking your neck out. Remember, you are building on knowledge that your advisor built on before, and with each passing academic generation the bar is raised even higher. Driven by that inner “need” to know more, answer more questions, graduate, and eventually take on a young grasshopper of your own, who, if you’ve done your job right, will have a longer neck than you.
This has been either the best analogy or the worst parable ever.
Welcome to how my brain works,
Cheers.