As a professor/parent, I have found that a typical assumption is that the offspring of professors will be somehow unusual. If a child happens to be the offspring of two professors, and if both of those professor-parents are Scientists, there is an even greater chance that people will assume the child is "freaky smart", unsocialized, and/or destined (doomed?) to be a Science Professor.
For example, I have heard various myths and rumors about my daughter:
- She spoke in complete paragraphs at [insert absurdly young age]. This was not the case. She started saying single words at a rather typical age, then started putting two or three words together, eventually working her way up to short sentences, and so on, just like most kids do. Her first complex sentence was "Let's go home to warm cats".
- She read The New York Times when she was 3 years old. This one makes me laugh. She has always loved books -- reading and being read to -- but I can assure you that The New York Times was not on her syllabus at age 3 (or 5 or 8).
And so on.
She is smart and articulate, perhaps fueling the rumors of precocious reading and speaking, but mostly I think that people assume that our daughter started speaking early and reading Paul Krugman's op-ed columns because this fits their idea of professorial offspring.
Many of us make these assumptions. Recently my husband remarked how strange it is that one of our daughter's friends is not interested in computers even though her father is a computer scientist. I said: Why should a daughter have the exact same interests as her father (or mother)? [If that were always true, my daughter would not have a favorite Beatle]
I have struggled with my own preconceptions about professor offspring. On a few occasions when professor-colleagues have told me about their young-adult kids who are failing chemistry in college or living in their garage while working in a restaurant, my first reaction is surprise. How can the daughter of such a brilliant scientist fail chemistry? How can the son of such a brilliant scientist not even go to college? But of course it is possible. Our kids are not us, and this is a good thing.
There are days when my daughter has to come to the office with me, but on these occasions, we keep a low profile. I vividly recall incidents when the wife of one of my Science professors in college would bring her two young sons to campus and even into some of the laboratory sessions. She delighted in showing that her 7-year old knew more about Science than some of the undergraduates in the class.
Needless to say, she and her offspring were rather well loathed. I don't think I am in danger of perpetuating this type of behavior. However proud I am of my smart and interesting daughter, I have not been even the slightest bit tempted to humiliate any of my students.
Years ago, my daughter had a serious talk with me and gently broke the news to me about her career plans. She said "Mommy, I am interested in science and I am glad that you are a scientist, but I do not want to be a scientist." I said that of course this was fine with me and I just wanted her to be happy and find something that interested her and of course I didn't expect her to like the same things as her dad and me blah blah blah, but I asked her, just out of curiosity, why she had decided at such an early age that science was not for her. She said "I am more interested in people than in science things."
Her thoughts have evolved somewhat over the years as she has realized that some scientists do research involving people, but I think it very unlikely that she will be a scientist. I hope that she will always know something about science and be interested in it, but of course it is fine with me if she isn't a scientist, as long as she instead becomes President of the United States.
6 months ago