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I'm just kind of curious if people here have family members, relatives, etc. who are/were academics or if they are the first in their family to be pursuing grad school. I know a lot of people end up going into professions similar to their parents, so I wonder how true this is of academia as well. I am the first of anyone in my family (relatives included) to go to university (both for an undergrad degree and graduate degree.) Both of my parents got jobs out of high school and I'm the only one of my siblings to finish high school. Essentially my family does not place education very highly, whereas it has always been something very significant to me. So I felt a bit alone and unsure of myself in the process as I initially viewed a doctorate degree as something only attainable to the most highly knowledgeable people, and never dreamed I would be going to grad school myself. :mellow: For those of you who do have family members in academics, do you feel as though this is an advantage (having somebody close to go to for advice, who knows the process and has gone through it themselves, etc.) or a disadvantage (being pressured to pursue academia, or feeling like you must live up to higher standards)?

Edited by Danger_Zone
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I am a first generation student. Neither of my parents went to college. I grew up well below the poverty line in a single-parent household and was completely supporting myself by 17. Academia has been

According to PNPI, 11% of low-income, first-generation college students will obtain a Bachelor's degree within six years of enrolling in school, compared to 55% of their more advantaged peers. We shou

I would say it does on an interpersonal/social level. Like OP I am first gen for both grad and undergrad. I'm still trying to explain to my family what a PhD even is, what I do in a program, what type

Of my immediate family at least, I am the first on track to finish a Masters or higher (currently in MS program). Mom, dad, and stepdad all went straight into the Navy after high school; my mom did obtain a BSN during her service/at the end of it. My brother started an MS program 6 years ago but dropped out sometime in his first year of it and doesn't have any plans to finish -- nor does he need to; he's got a pretty sweet job that's stable, good hours, good pay, etc. w/ a BS in Mech E and 6 years service time on a nuclear submarine to his credit. My "go to" people for advice, rants, vents, sharing good news, etc. are my friends who have completed a Masters...many have, in several different fields. A few FB friends (aka they're typically HS and undergrad acquaintances) have or are in process of obtaining PhD and I've asked them one or two things but not much. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any cousins or aunts/uncles with advanced degrees. Certainly none with a PhD. I've been kicking around the idea of doing a PhD for a while now. Time will tell...

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1 hour ago, Danger_Zone said:

So I felt a bit alone and unsure of myself in the process as I initially viewed a doctorate degree as something only attainable to the most highly knowledgeable people, and never dreamed I would be going to grad school myself. :mellow: 

This described me around 2007, when I was starting my 3rd year of undergrad and just started to realise that grad school is something I wanted to do and also could actually achieve. Everything changed when during this year, I started talking to professors and got some mentorship on how research works, what academia is, and how to apply for schools. I feel super lucky to have a great mentor like this!

I know a lot of my friends in grad school now have parents who were in grad school. I asked them the same question you asked in your post and for the most part, it's a positive thing. There are so many weird "unwritten" rules/conventions in academia that you just don't know about. For example, I had no idea that grad schools pay students and it's like a job instead of accruing more debt. If this was not true, there was no way I could have gone to more school after my undergrad, because it would not be financially possible.

My parents are great, supportive and loving people. One finished high school and another had to drop out of high school to help pay the bills for their family. They lived through a war as children/teenagers and immigrated to Canada as war refugees. So, they were also completely in the dark about how academia works. They did value education throughout my whole childhood but when I first said I was considering grad school, their first question was "But you're finishing college, isn't it time to get a job / can't you be a professor now?" They meant this in the best way possible though! But I definitely understand how you are feeling.

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My parents both have PhDs. However, they got their PhDs quite some time ago when our government gave out grants to everybody who went to university and the overall numbers of grad students was a fraction of what it is now. I'm not pursuing my PhD in the same field(s), either. So I'm not sure that having family members who got PhDs gives me a huge "insider advantage".

 

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3 hours ago, rising_star said:

This is rather old but you should check it out because there's a lot of useful discussion:

 

Thanks! I didn't want to start a new topic if something was already out there, but I don't think I've heard the term straddler before.

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1 hour ago, St Andrews Lynx said:

My parents both have PhDs. However, they got their PhDs quite some time ago when our government gave out grants to everybody who went to university and the overall numbers of grad students was a fraction of what it is now. I'm not pursuing my PhD in the same field(s), either. So I'm not sure that having family members who got PhDs gives me a huge "insider advantage".

 

I would say it does on an interpersonal/social level. Like OP I am first gen for both grad and undergrad. I'm still trying to explain to my family what a PhD even is, what I do in a program, what types of jobs I'll be able to get with one that I wouldn't have been with just a BA. Fortunately I have no actual language barrier, but talking about  grad school, PhD programs especially, just requires a totally different vocabulary that isn't a hurdle for people whose parents have also gone through the process themselves. Maybe on the day to day there is no insider advantage but I definitely think there is socially/interpersonally. 

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2 hours ago, TakeruK said:

This described me around 2007, when I was starting my 3rd year of undergrad and just started to realise that grad school is something I wanted to do and also could actually achieve. Everything changed when during this year, I started talking to professors and got some mentorship on how research works, what academia is, and how to apply for schools. I feel super lucky to have a great mentor like this!

I know a lot of my friends in grad school now have parents who were in grad school. I asked them the same question you asked in your post and for the most part, it's a positive thing. There are so many weird "unwritten" rules/conventions in academia that you just don't know about. For example, I had no idea that grad schools pay students and it's like a job instead of accruing more debt. If this was not true, there was no way I could have gone to more school after my undergrad, because it would not be financially possible.

My parents are great, supportive and loving people. One finished high school and another had to drop out of high school to help pay the bills for their family. They lived through a war as children/teenagers and immigrated to Canada as war refugees. So, they were also completely in the dark about how academia works. They did value education throughout my whole childhood but when I first said I was considering grad school, their first question was "But you're finishing college, isn't it time to get a job / can't you be a professor now?" They meant this in the best way possible though! But I definitely understand how you are feeling.

I was very fortunate to have some really great professors who helped mentor me. I think without them I may not be going to grad school in the fall. When I started undergrad I did think about attending grad school, but felt it was unrealistic for me to go somewhere that was not only more difficult, but more competitive. I also couldn't imagine going to school for another decade! (A bit of an exaggeration, but at the time I was considering going to school for psychology and had heard things about grad school taking 5-7 years, then post-docs, etc.) But once you learn it is more like job training - and that you usually get paid for said training - it really is a whole new environment and experience than undergrad.

My parents are supportive as well and proud of what I'm doing, even though I have to explain what that is sometimes (I still have to remind them that I don't already have a Master's degree ;)).

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Personally, I am fortunate to have other people in my family that have advanced degrees (my dad has a Masters and my uncle has a PhD, but my grandparents were immigrants to this country so our family recently moved up in socioeconomic status and education), and it definitely helped me feel that university was possible. Also, both of my parents went to the same school I'm at for undergrad, so that helped me feel more comfortable as well.

 

However, my boyfriend has immigrant parents who work at labour jobs (like construction and cleaning), and don't have very much education. His parents are similar to my grandparents, and his experience is similar to my dad's/aunt's experience. It has been really eye-opening to help him through the process of applying to graduate school, and especially to teach him about personal finance, negotiating, and self-confidence. One of the main things I see is that he doesn't know his own worth, especially regarding employment. It's extremely difficult to get paid to do research at the undergraduate level, but if his professor is offering to pay him, he counter-offers and says he'll work for free!

It's definitely difficult hearing that he struggled with impostor syndrome and that he saw classmates from highly educated backgrounds succeeding in the first few years of undergrad, but he has worked hard continuously and through that hard work and dedication, he's gotten farther than those classmates (at least educationally). However, these experiences were definitely shaped by his (crappy) teachers and guidance counsellors telling students at his (low income) school that none of them could get into university, that they should aim lower, and that they would be 'better suited' for college or to just work after high school.

So I think the low expectations that people from these communities learn to internalize is one of the biggest aspects working against you when it comes to improving your socioeconomic status. Because if no one expects much from you, and they tell you that you can't make it, it's easy to just believe them and not try very hard or not reach your full potential.

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Both my parents have PhDs, but they're from a different country with a completely different academic culture and education system, so whilst I got the benefit of reading good books and going to the theater from early childhood, they can't help me with any of the practical stuff. Plus, sometimes they're very insistent that how things worked in that other country 30-40 years ago is how things work here and now, and it can be difficult to dissuade them of the applicability of their priors. In general, I think that the world has changed so much and continues to change so rapidly that, outside of direct stuff like giving your children money or introducing them to people who can give them money/opportunities, no parent is going to be of much help in a professional setting.

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I'm first generation, too. My mom graduated high school but my dad dropped out around 10th grade. He was never very good at reading and couldn't even spell my name, but he worked hard all his life as a laborer in various industries from fruit picking to construction. Jack of all trades, master of none. Mom's floated around medical fields for 30 years but never got much higher than a certified nurse's assistant, now she's a scheduler in a doctor's office. They wanted me to go to and finish school but they honestly had no idea how to support me through any of it. I did all of it on my own and I still am while I work for my MA. 

It's been a difficult road from the get-go, but I've realized I'm a pretty strong, determined person. 

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I'm technically first generation but not really. My mom started her associates a year after I started undergrad. My grandparents worked straight out of high school. My uncle just got his PhD two years ago and my aunt has her MBA. Although all of my family is extremely supportive, my aunt and uncle are my go-to for anything grad school related. My aunt didn't get me into school but she's expanded my network and connected me with other professionals who have gone through the school psychology phD process. In a way, I had assistance because I knew how to prepare for the process and have insight of the field and program but I still had to do most of the work and get myself into school. 

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I'm the first in my family to pursue higher education (undergrad and grad). My parents were immigrants and were raised in poverty (HS and grade school education), but I was lucky enough to experience a pretty middle classed childhood. They've always pushed me to go as far as I could academically, so I'm lucky that they've been as supportive as they can be. 

And though I know even with my education I will not make as much as they do (because of their long hours and such), I appreciate the opportunity they have given me to experience life through this lens. 

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My dad is a Ph.D, and research active in business, but not my field.  His parents weren't educated, but both of his brothers have advanced degrees, and all my cousins on that side have at least a bachlors degree.  My grandfather on the other side was an MD, and I think his mother was very well educated as well.  Needless to say, college wasn't an if, but a when.

I have been very privileged to have everyone in my life appreciate academics.  But it is still it's own experience.  I decided to work for a few years just so that I knew I wanted to be an academic, and that it wasn't just my dad wanting me to be one. The job search was actually kind of hard.  My dad has had tenure for over 15 years, and my mom has never worked outside the home.  My other close adult friends were either academics or entrpenures. So everyone in my life was kind of clueless about the job search process.  It ended well, and I'm not complaining,  but I did have to figure it out myself.

I'd say overall, having a dad in academia does help. I can bounce research ideas off of him and he has a good ear for an interesting study.  But it will not make or break you.  My dad can't write my papers, or force me to study for statistics.  The main help he provides is just being a positive voice in my life.  Sometimes he believes in me more than I believe in myself. (He is convinced that I should be able to complete my degree in three years. Hahaha!)  But I think that is something that any parent can provide for their children, and if they don't, find someone who will.

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I am a first generation student. Neither of my parents went to college. I grew up well below the poverty line in a single-parent household and was completely supporting myself by 17. Academia has been a huge adjustment. I know some working-class students, but I did not grow up in the working-class. I do not have supportive but clueless parents. It makes for awkward conversations when faculty ask very basic questions about my family (what do your parents do? where did you grow up? are you going home for the summer/holiday/etc?), and I can't answer because I don't really know them, when i did live with my mother we moved constantly, and the home I have built for myself here is my year round home. At first I as intimidated by all things academia, being in rooms with people that had tutors, went to Ivy league undergrad (I'm in an ivy league phd but went community college to no-name state school for the BA), but that mostly faded. The only real, persistent difference I notice between my peers who come from middle/upper (and sometimes working) class backgrounds and I is the ease with which they express themselves and how quickly they can articulate their opinions. Believing that you have something worth saying and knowing how to say it are skills that I know I lack, and I am sure many other first generation students do as well.

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Thanks for the replies everyone! I think it's really interesting to hear about the different backgrounds grad students have come from. I can't say whether or not having parents in academics would have been an advantage to me, but it is a bit of an issue sometimes since they don't seem to understand how difficult school can be, or what kind of opportunities it may or may not give you. I also want somebody to share my research and work with because I'm proud of it but it's hard to get them to sit down and read a 30+ page paper.-_-

As for my family, though, one of my aunts did go to university to study Psychology but ended up dropping out early on. My mom really wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, and my dad had been working since he was about 16 (he got kicked out and was told over and over he would never finish high school, but he managed to so of course I am proud of him for that!) I am sad that my siblings will not be pursuing higher education, but I understand that it isn't for everyone. I think it would be nice to help guide them through the process since I have already gone through it myself,but hopefully I can be helpful in other areas of life. :) 

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I'm a first generation student, although 3 of my 4 siblings did go to undergrad (and one got a masters). My immediate family is a bit of an outlier when compared to my extended family. I have a three aunts and three uncles and a ton of cousins and second cousins on my mom's side, and none have gone to college (several didn't finish high school). I don't really know my dad's side of the family well (many of them don't speak to us because they're pissed off about stupid things that happened a long time ago), but of the relatives I do know, only one went to college.

My siblings weren't very helpful in terms of what to expect as an undergrad... they are quite a bit older than me and I'm not close with any of them, so they didn't exactly provide me with any pointers. My brother who got his masters had his employer pay for it, so he didn't have any advice on finding fellowships and other funding anyway. So I've very much been on my own for grad school aside from some excellent mentors at school.

I don't really find it awkward being the only family member going for a PhD. My family thinks it's pretty cool, although my parents were definitely unhappy with my decision to go to grad school when I was accepted to my masters program. They wanted me to get a job and stop being a career student. What is more awkward is that my husband didn't go to college. A lot of professors and grad students assume that I would have married someone I met at school or something. They always say something like "oh" when I tell them he's worked in warehouses and as a maintenance man.

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11 hours ago, Deadwing0608 said:

The only real, persistent difference I notice between my peers who come from middle/upper (and sometimes working) class backgrounds and I is the ease with which they express themselves and how quickly they can articulate their opinions. Believing that you have something worth saying and knowing how to say it are skills that I know I lack, and I am sure many other first generation students do as well.

I’m definitely not a first generation student, but I'm shy, so I struggle with this as well.  There have been several workshops where I have had a comment, but I was getting up my courage to speak when someone else brought up what I wanted to say. It's frustrating, haha!

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On 21 April 2016 at 10:44 PM, Danger_Zone said:

Thanks for the replies everyone! I think it's really interesting to hear about the different backgrounds grad students have come from. I can't say whether or not having parents in academics would have been an advantage to me, but it is a bit of an issue sometimes since they don't seem to understand how difficult school can be, or what kind of opportunities it may or may not give you. I also want somebody to share my research and work with because I'm proud of it but it's hard to get them to sit down and read a 30+ page paper.-_-

My grandparents have paper copies of my mother & uncle's grad school/academic publications. They don't completely understand what the papers are about, but it doesn't stop them feeling proud. I showed them my first academic publication, and they admitted that the only part of the title they could understand was the word "The" ;) 

I'm sure your folks will be proud of you, even if they don't understand all the intricacies of your research/teaching, etc. 

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First in my family to have a BA (thanks to some great professors/mentors, a lot of luck, and a little bit of hard work), and will be the first with a PhD (hopefully, if I get there). We're immigrants and in my native country the schooling for kids, when my parents were of age was up until middle school before they were expected to get jobs to help out their respective families.

Edited by TenaciousBushLeaper
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  • 1 year later...

Same here, I'm the first in my direct family with a BA. Most relatives have Bachelor degrees but only 1 has a Masters. At the moment I'm looking for an MS program (just explained my dad a couple days ago what a Masters degree is and what it can do for me haha). I have no plan on getting a Phd though. My Masters will be it.

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I am the first in my family (immediate family I must precise) to pursue graduate school but university as well. I am the first to get a university diploma, both of my parents do not have university degrees. But they are still supportive of what I do and what I want to accomplish.

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I've had family members go on to professional school (medical school, to be exact). I'll be the first one to pursue graduate school, though.

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  • 1 month later...

I am the first person in my immediate family to get a bachelor's/master's. I am the only person in my immediate and extended family to pursue a PhD. I feel like imposter syndrome hits me extra hard because it's always something I am self conscious of. 

I work extremely hard but deep down I feel like it's tough to be accepted into the academic world without a mentor. Thankfully I have a great advisor, but I still feel like I don't really *belong.*

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  • 2 months later...

My father has a master's and my mother has a doctorate degree. Actually, my mother is also a professor.

There's no disadvantage, but no huge advantage either. I think they have more realistic expectation of higher education, they know getting a PhD doesn't mean that much these days. They would be perfectly fine if I didn't go to graduate school at all. Doing PhD is just something I want to do. There's no pressure or higher expectation.

Interestingly, nobody in our extended family I know has a doctorate degree.

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