MPACT Family Trees: Quantifying Academic Genealogy in Library and Information Science

Article excerpt

Academic genealogy is valuable because it provides context, history and has the potential to predict future trends in a particular discipline or field. However, it is most commonly done casually and without the rigor to provide a platform for discussion beyond the anecdote. This paper presents a novel technique for calculating genealogical scores for individuals and academic "families." This data-driven technique provides a platform for greater contextualization and insight into an academic's legacy. Implemented widely, this technique could provide significant insight into mentorship as a valued addition to the traditional academic metrics of teaching, scholarship, and service.

Keywords: mentorship, academic lineage, genealogy, dissertations, metrics, doctoral education, survey

Introduction

Academics have long considered their place in the pursuit of knowledge. They are aware of those who have come before them and are continually working at the edge of knowledge to carve out their own place. The literature review is an integral part of any research. It contextualizes the current work and provides a framework for understanding what is new. Academic genealogy does the same; it provides the observer a better view of the influencing powers in a researcher's life and course of study.

However, much of the information regarding academic genealogy is anecdotal and orally disseminated, making it difficult for new researchers in a discipline to identify their place in an historical context and for those studying a field to have a comprehensive picture of the academic family tree. There has also been very little in the way of quantifying family trees as a method to gain a contextualized perspective of the impact of an individual or branch within a particular academic community or discipline.

This lack of quantification hinders a researcher's ability to see patterns and prevents data-driven discussion around academic genealogy. The MPACT project (http://www.ils.unc.edu/mpact) calculates eight family tree metrics discussed in this paper and publicly provides this much needed quantification. MPACT provides these metrics, a visualization of an individual's academic family tree, and open access to the data for querying and further investigation by third parties.

Literature Review

Kealy & Mullen (1996) proposed the idea of macro-mentorship, in which mentorship is considered on the level of an organization of mentoring relationships, rather than purely the one-to-one, mentor-mentee relationship. In their description of macro-mentorship, they offer the idea of the academic family tree as one example of macro-mentorship. They argue that by making observations at the macro level we can implement change to enhance mentorship on the micro level (the one-to-one relationships). They encourage the study of academic lineages to help individual scholars place themselves and others within a broader, historical context and for institutions and disciplines to examine their distinctive cultural histories.

However, there have been few published studies on academic lineage/genealogy. The majority of the published work has traced the lineage of a particular individual, either a contemporary scholar tracing back through their ancestry, or a study exploring the family tree of a certain "patriarch" in a given field (Bennett & Lowe, 2005; Stella, 2001; Stuart & Pierce, 2006; Tyler & Tyler, 1992). There are also numerous web projects of this kind (e.g., http://www.cs.usask.ca/ -mould/lineage/lineage.html).

Some studies have limited the focus to a particular department within a university, such as the study of chemistry faculty at the University of WisconsinMadison (Rocke & Ihde, 1979) and the psychology department at the University of Western Ontario (Innis, 1988). Similarly, there have been a few databases devoted to the study of faculties, for example, the chemistry faculty at the University of Texas at Austin (http:// www. …