Academic Genealogy

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According to Wikipedia, an academic genealogy ``organizes a family tree of scientists and scholars according to dissertation supervision relationships.'' This can also be generalized to scientific mentoring relationships other than dissertation supervision.

There are a number of people whom I see as my mentors. The genealogy of my doctoral dissertation adviser Joseph W. Goodman, and thus my genealogy, was researched by Pablo Irarrazaval for Albert Macovski, one of Goodman's early students. It is a genealogy that wholly remains in the USA, terminating around what I believe to be the beginnings of formal education there. Among the names appearing are Frederick Terman (one of the founders of Silicon Valley), Vannevar Bush (US science administrator during World War II), Percy Williams Bridgman (Nobel Prize 1946), and Arthur E. Kennelly (who worked with Thomas Edison). Goodman also appears in the Mathematics Genealogy Project database, but only as a not very well-constructed entry.

My earlier work at Stanford was supervised by Lambertus Hesselink. Backtracking his genealogy in the Mathematics Genealogy Project, one encounters names such as Klein (1868), Lipschitz (1853), Dirichlet (1827), Bessel (1810), Poisson (1800), Fourier (?), Gauss (1799), Lagrange (1754), Laplace (?), Euler (1726), d'Alembert (?), Bernoulli (1684), Malebranche (1672), Leibniz (1666), Snellius (1607), and Copernicus (1499). Dates are that of dissertation or degree. The earliest dissertation date I could track in this tree is 1363. There are also many familiar names that appear as distant grand cousins. For another example of this kind, see the genealogy of Billur Barshan, which also features similar names.

It seems that in earlier times the research community was small, and most scientists were related. Therefore, a large group of present-day scientists can trace their origins to a relatively small number of names such as those listed above. It is interesting to observe that while later dissertations are scientific or at least philosophical in content, earlier ones are theological, reflecting the gradual transition of institutions of learning from religious ones to scientific ones. Indeed some interim figures have two dissertations, one theological, one scientific.

After completing my PhD, I worked at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg with Adolf W. Lohmann. His genealogy in the Mathematics Genealogy Project, like that of Goodman, is not well constructed. Another person I consider my mentor is David A. B. Miller, with whom I worked with for a short period at AT&T Bell Labs (later Lucent Technologies and Alcatel-Lucent). Unfortunately I do not have any further information regarding the genealogies of Lohmann and Miller.

Of related interest to academic genealogies is the Collaboration Distance. Inspired by the Erdős number, this tells your connection to other authors. If author A is a coauthor with author B, their distance is 1. If author C is coauthor with B, but not directly with A, the distance of A to C is 2, and so on. My distance to Erdős, as well as many major figures of the twentieth century (such as Einstein, Dirac, Schrödinger, Feynman, Shannon, Chomsky), is usually 4-6. My distance to Gauss, as an example of an earlier figure, is 7. (Thanks to Emre Güven for pointing out the collaboration distance link.)

Needless to say, it would be unwise to judge the worth of any individual, either positively or negatively, based on their academic (or familial) genealogy.