Academic Incest (physics, engineering)

In summary, the conversation discusses the concept of "academic incest" and the idea that receiving undergraduate and graduate training from the same university may be seen as detrimental. The speaker shares their personal experience of obtaining three degrees from the same university in different disciplines and addresses the idea of switching schools to be exposed to different people and curriculums. They also mention their positive experience with a research opportunity and receiving a Ph.D. offer. The conversation ends with the opinion that staying at the same university for all degrees may not be a negative thing and that personal circumstances should be considered.
  • #1
So I do not think it matters because I am quite happy where I am but I thought I would humor myself and throw it out to the masses just for fun.

I have heard this term "academic incest" which basically is this idea that receiving undergraduate and graduate training from the same university is so bad it is somehow compared with inter-famial relations.

Here is my background:
I received my B.S. in Physics with minors in Biomedical Engineering and Mathematics from Colorado State University. While graduate school was something that interested me I was tired of having empty pockets and massive looming amount of school debt to pay off so I decided to put myself on the job market and see what happens. I applied to several biomedical engineering, and other engineering positions and had only got offers in positions that I was not all that well interested in and would not pay me enough to fake it. I decided one of the things that was holding me back was the lack of an engineering degree (lets not get into that whole physics vs. engineering degree thing) so decided maybe I needed an Engineering Degree. I was not sure at that point whether I wanted to commit to a Ph.D. program so I applied to two choice programs where I thought, "if I get in here that would be great if not oh well", and then I applied to a Master's of Engineering program at my alma mater. Well, I did not get into those other programs but I got into my alma mater for the M.E. degree. At this point I was juts feeling that the Ph.D. route was just not in the cards and I should focus on a curriculum to build engineering expertise to land a good job so I chose to specialize in mechanical engineering. After my first year of my master's I needed some income over the summer, and rather than drive a concrete truck, I sought employment that would help me build relevant skills to my career. The professor I worked for as an undergrad, suggested I reach out to a colleague of his doing cancer research that needed a guy who was good a programming so after meeting with my now P.I. I decided this would be a good gig over the summer. Over the summer I did a lot of big data science and began to become interested in machine learning applied to the medical field. After the summer was up I wanted to continue to work on my project so I became a part time graduate research assistant for the fall semester. Push come to shove at the end of the fall semester I was basically talking to him about what my plans where, which at the time was to start applying to as many jobs as possible, and he asked me if I was interested in getting my Ph.d.? After thinking on it a while, I decided that this was a great opportunity and I would take it and I just finished my masters and am enrolling into the Ph.D. program in biomedical engineering. So basically I will have three degrees all from CSU but in three different disciplines and thus the incest question.

Additionally, for context I hear one of the main reasons for switching schools is to be exposed to different people and curriculums. Well I might have done all my work at the same school, which is not entirely true, but I did it in three different programs. As alluded to above I completed my Freshman and Sophomore years at the University of Vermont, where I also did some research, and transferred to CSU for personal reasons. In addition, I did a three month post bachelors research internship at the University of North Carolina Medical School in Chapel Hill so I have worked in different schools I just earned my degrees at one school.

Personally, I feel that "academic whore" might be a better description but let's see what the internet says.
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  • #2
Consider yourself extremely lucky. At a point where you had no good ideas about direction, interests, and what not, you bumped into this phenomenal opportunity. And enjoyed it as well. Not only that, they also were very happy with you. You learned a lot of things (among others that delving deep into a subject makes it more interesting). You're obviously intelligent enough and apparently also pretty street-wise. Don't worry a second about this single geographical location on your CV -- it's easily compensated by a good network. And don't worry about how well a job pays (or else go into real estate or something): it's only one item on a longer list: interest, challenge, development opportunities etc. should be higher on that list. After all you want to have a long career as well as a good career.

Best of luck !
  • #3
This is one of those ideas that tends to get massively overblown in my opinion.

All things being equal I think it's a good idea to go to different schools. You're exposed to different teaching styles and are given different learning options. You broaden your academic and social network. And it can help you to grow more as a person. So this is common advice that people give out to students that are trying to decide on where to go for graduate studies.

Some overly-dramatic types tend to invert these advantages into a cardinal sin if not capitalized on (hence the metaphor in the thread title).

But the fact of the matter is that sometimes there are very good reasons to stay where you are. You're familiar with the school and the administrative system, it might be the best financial option, you have an established network of friends, you have a record of performing well there, etc. And so sometimes these can outweigh the advantages of going elsewhere. When that's the case, staying is the better option.
  • #4
This seems to be a typical american thing. In my country, it is very very common to get your PhD in the same university as your masters/bachelors. I don't see it as inherently bad.
  • #5
micromass said:
This seems to be a typical american thing. In my country, it is very very common to get your PhD in the same university as your masters/bachelors. I don't see it as inherently bad.

But then again, in Belgium (as is the case with many if not most European countries) there are relatively few universities per capita compared to the US. Also, Belgium doesn't really have an equivalent to the American 4-year liberal arts college focused primarily on undergraduate education -- all universities in Belgium are essentially research universities.
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Likes micromass
  • #6
I wouldn't worry at all about it. I got my PhD from the same place I got my undergraduate and it didn't hurt me one bit.
  • #7
Every place you study has policies and programs that they do well, and some that they do not. That is why people think it is a good idea to study in more than one place. You should aim to learn from a more rounded exposure to the world. This sort of thing applies to other areas of life as well.

Furthermore, nobody comes out of a university with everything they need to know for their career. It is hoped that you will use that background, and the technical frameworks you learned there to study the things they didn't teach you. As long as that's the case, the bias from getting your graduate degree or PhD from the same place as the undergraduate degree is mostly a non-issue.
  • #8
I think the one place it could bite you is if you were to enter academia, where some institutions might prefer profs with a more varied education list in your CV. It is not necessarily the case, and selling them your research and writing creds should dispel any issues with it. It shouldn't have any bearing on working in your field.

Education teaches you to learn. You learned how to learn. Eventually someone somewhere will hand you several volumes of something and say "Make this work," or give you a project and say "Make this happen." You make it happen by learning to do it at the same time. It doesn't matter if you went to the same school for all your degrees if you can do it as well or better than the next person, and efficiently. The basics are the same, but experience is always hard won.
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  • #9
Haha they liked your work so much they couldn't stand to lose you. Congrats!

1. What is academic incest in the fields of physics and engineering?

Academic incest refers to a phenomenon where researchers, professors, and students within a particular academic discipline tend to collaborate and cite each other's work, resulting in a limited diversity of perspectives and ideas within that field.

2. How does academic incest affect the progress and development of physics and engineering?

Academic incest can lead to a lack of innovation and new ideas, as researchers within the field may be limited in their thinking and approach. It can also result in biased or skewed research, as researchers may be more likely to support and cite their own work or the work of their academic colleagues.

3. Are there any potential benefits to academic incest in physics and engineering?

Some argue that academic incest can lead to a stronger and more cohesive community within a particular field, as researchers are familiar with each other's work and can build upon it more easily. It can also result in more efficient communication and collaboration within the field.

4. How can we prevent or reduce academic incest in physics and engineering?

One way to reduce academic incest is to encourage and support interdisciplinary research and collaborations, bringing in new perspectives and ideas from outside the field. Additionally, promoting diversity and inclusion within the academic community can help to prevent groupthink and encourage a wider range of voices and ideas.

5. What are some potential consequences of academic incest in physics and engineering?

Besides hindering innovation and progress, academic incest can also lead to a lack of diversity and representation within the field, as certain groups or individuals may be excluded or marginalized. It can also create an unhealthy power dynamic within the academic community, with established researchers having more influence and control over the direction of the field.

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