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Exploring my academic genealogy

Exploring my academic genealogy

For the past few months, I've been writing up my PhD. As a side project, to give my brain a bit of a rest from thesis writing, I've been working on something which I have found fascinating: mapping the academic genealogy of my current department. 

What is academic genealogy?

Academic genealogy is the idea that academic relationships - usually PhD student-supervisor connections - can be thought of as being similar to a family tree.

It has received renewed interest in recent years with the development of online platforms to try to crowdsource networks of scholarly relationships, through websites such as The Academic Family Tree (David & Hayden, 2012) and PhD Tree. 

Why map the academic genealogy of your department?

My current department is the Institute of Educational Technology, at the Open University, UK. Technology-enhanced learning and related topics are highly interdisciplinary in nature (Scanlon & Taylor, 2012). Mapping the academic genealogy of the department provides a novel, empirical way of exploring this; a similar approach has been used in this way in Library and Information Science, for example (Sugimoto et al., 2011).

Gaining an insight into academic genealogy could be a way of helping PhD students or early career academics in the field achieve ‘academic socialization’ within the discipline in a sense, by making explicit connections which are initially unseen but may be influential. Whenever you go to a conference as a PhD student and start a conversation with someone new, which department you are at and who your supervisor is usually one of the first things which comes up. The idea of academic genealogy has even featured in PhD Comics!

Have a look

I presented a poster about this at our recent departmental conference, which can be found here: 

I've posted an interactive version of the network visualisation on my website here: (This was made using the sigma.js exporter plugin for Gephi).

It has been a fascinating process for me in constructing the academic genealogy of my department. I'd be happy to hear any comments or if you would like to find out more about how I did it and how you might construct something similar, do drop me a line.


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