What if you could apply the concept of genealogy in a much broader sense, beyond the traditional context of a history of families? You can! The idea of an academic lineage was first brought to my attention by Amy J. Ko’s Bio page, who lists her advisors, who were advised by the previous generation advisors, who were advised by the previous-previous generation, and so forth.
It seemed like a fun idea to try out. The premise is that if you go back long enough, there’s bound to be an advisor who specializes in another field, giving an interesting overview of historic cross-disciplinary cuts of your academic past. To help you build up the so-called “science tree”, there’s The Academic Family Tree website where you can wander a tree from a participating field such as Computer Science, Economics, or Microbiology. The only problem is that the database turned out to be useless for me. Even many the more well-known academics I’m acquainted with aren’t in there (for CS, there are 22,498 people accounted for).
Since PhD dissertations—in theory—should be open access and thus freely available on the internet, it shouldn’t be hard to construct a tree yourself. Here’s my attempt:
I specialize in software engineering education and am advised by:
- Joost Vennekens, specializing in knowledge representation and advised by…
- Marc Denecker, specializing in knowledge representation and advised by…
- Danny De Schreye, specializing in AI and was advised by ??
That online trail went cold quickly and is far less interesting than Amy’s short academic lineage list. In mine, everyone is from the same university (KU Leuven), everyone specializes in more or less the same domain—except myself as I am more interested in a combination of practical side of software engineering in combination with didactic. The lack of other computing education supervisors perhaps explains why this is such as neglected field in Belgium. The same exercise with my co-supervisor yields another uninteresting tree.
Other academic lineage trees like Bruce Boghosian’s are much more well-researched and even go back to 1717! It contains very cool names such as Lagrange, Laplace, Fourier, and even Ohm. Here’s another interesting tree with short bibliographic notes for each entry.
I don’t know if it’s worth chasing these ghosts as it’s clear that I don’t belong in that tree. I don’t know anything about knowledge representation and little about AI. My PhD is paid by the local campus because of my 50% teaching assistant assignment. If I were to advise others in the future (chances are slim), I’d obviously continue down my own well-trodden path.
For me, what I find much more compelling is perhaps something among the lines of a coach lineage in the industry itself. Who was your unofficial coach when you learned the tricks of the trade? Who was his or hers? These are harder to reverse-engineer but are more interesting. For example, it might give you a clue of which company is doing interesting things. It could help identifying Eric Weiner’s “Genius Clusters”.