A reader wonders:
Did I make a mistake in agreeing to advise a graduate student who has a parent in our same field of research? (but not at my department or university). I didn't really think about it in the beginning. The student was promising and I didn't think of the student in any different way from any other student, but later I started to get paranoid for reasons I am too paranoid even to describe. Also, the parent comes to my talks at conferences and sits in the front. I try to be a good advisor, but sometimes situations arise that cause stress between advisor and student. Do I have to worry that these situations will affect my standing in my field if my student tells the parent that I am an evil advisor and the parent (a senior professor) somehow seeks revenge in the many and varied secret but effective ways that academics have of doing this to each other? Should tenure-track faculty in particular avoid advising the offspring of people in their same field?
Actually, I would rather avoid this issue, for reasons I am too paranoid to describe even in an anonymous blog, but I feel your pain. Mostly I will open this up for comments from readers to give advice about being the advisor in this situation, but I can also think of several other scenarios that might also be interesting to discuss:
- an undergraduate in your class is the offspring of a professor at your university;
- an undergraduate in your class is the offspring of a colleague or other known person in your field at another university;
- one of your faculty colleagues is the offspring of someone in your field;
- one of the (unsuccessful) candidates for a faculty position is the offspring of someone in your field;
- one of your students or colleagues is the offspring of a highly placed administrator at your or another institution of higher education.
These situations differ from those in which one of your students is the son or daughter of a famous person who is not an academic. We are discussing here the specific case in which your job as a teacher, adviser, or member of a committee brings you into contact with the offspring of someone else in your field.
If you have been in this situation, did you worry that news of all your flaws as a teacher, advisor, and human being would be spread far and wide? Did you worry that your interactions with the offspring would affect your standing in your field, and not necessarily in a good way? Or did you have an excellent experience advising such a student or working with such a colleague?