Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Academic Parenthood

When I was a graduate student, I was in the slightly odd position of having two advisers for my dissertation. There was one in particular who I was quite close to, due to the fact that they had also supervised my Master's thesis.

This particular individual once explained to me an interesting metaphor about academics and their doctoral students. In the view of this individual, dissertation advisers are in some sense the academic parents of their graduate students. I have always rather liked this metaphor. When I first became a dissertation advisor, I attempted to emulate the way that my advisers had behaved. Often this was just little things, like paying for meals and passing on useful and interesting information. However, as this is much like what biological parents do, it made me realise that the metaphor had some considerable power.

As is the case with biological parents, the relationship was not just one sided. There was give and take. Upon occasion, when I had to be out of town for a conference, my student would drop by my house to feed and entertain my cats.

The reason for mentioning this metaphor today is because, as of this morning, for the very first time, I became an academic parent. My doctoral student successfully defended their dissertation. Although the final moments were kind of fraught, with late hours, working through drafts which always appeared to show up just a little later than was ideal, the dissertation was completed (just) in time. I guess this process is a bit like the child birth process. However, when graduation comes around, there will be one more shiny new PhD in the world. The dissertation also turned out to be surprisingly good in the end.

The thing that is curious is that when I got a moment (there was a lot of paperwork to get done and a celebratory lunch to hold as well), I felt compelled to drop a line to both my dissertation advisers, telling them the news. The experience of doing this, was not too dissimilar to that of making the calls about a newly arrived child. So, my student's academic grandparents have now been informed. What was interesting, was that in one of the replies, I learned the name of my academic grandparent for the first time. Now, I will be able tell my student of their entire academic family tree.

At the moment at least, I really like this parental metaphor. Of course, as is the case when one becomes a biological parent, the work is never done. The next thing that I have to look into is getting my student gainfully employed, until the next job/post-doc season opens up. However, all in all, this has been a pretty wonderful day.

The CP


Anonymous toastysue said...


Is it pink or a blue PhD.?

Do you pass around cigars? Or pipes?

I think there's an opening at my cute little university. Let me tell you how many of these military brats line up for the philosophy courses!

Two, I think. But they're a great bunch. . .well, pair. They're a great pair!


8:20 PM  
Blogger LP said...

Congrats! That's wonderful news. And your post has reminded me that I need to write some of my own extended academic family to let them know about my tenure. I forget sometimes that others get some satitisfaction in hearing about the things I do.

11:05 AM  

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