The Academic Genogram: Teaching for the Future by Learning From the Past

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  • professional developmentThe Academic Genogram:Teaching for the Future by

    Learning From the PastDARCY HAAG GRANELLO


    Describes a doctoral-level assignment that uses a genogram format to trace aca-demic lineage and uncover historical themes that continue to influence the student'sprofessional development.

    With every step I must bow to my tem:hers.-Hindu saying

    It is an underlying assumption in graduate education that stu-dents and their faculty advisors have a relationship that extendsbeyond formal education (Lamport. 1993). At the undergraduatelevel, it is estimated that more than 70% of what students learndurtng college is the result of out-of-class expertences (Kuh. 1993).It is reasonable to assume that this percentage is even higher fordoctoral studies. The mentortng role of doctoral faculty. particu-larly advisors. is pivotal in the personal and professional develop-ment of the trainee (Bruss & Kopola, 1993). Doctoral advisorssocialize students into the profession. provide academic and in-tellectual enrichment and encouragement, include students in theirresearch agendas. push students toward professional and per-sonal development. play key roles in determining future careergoals. and even provide job placement assistance. The role of the

    Darcy Haag Granello is an assistant professor of counselor education, DavidHothersall is a professor ofpsychology, and Ann L. Osborne is a doctoral studentin counselor education, all at The Ohio State University, Columbus. Correspon-dence regarding this article should be sent to Darcy Haag GraneUo, 11J.e Ohio StateUniversity, 283 Arps Hall, 1945 North High Street, Columbus, OH 43210 (e-mail:granello.1 @ostLedu).


  • faculty mentor is complex and includes teaching. advising. su-pervising. challenging. collaborating. and supporting.

    The professional identity of the student is shaped. in part. throughthese informal contacts with faculty mentors. Beliefs about theprofession. theoretical orientation, and professional identity areareas that are heavily influenced by mentors. Faculty mentors helpshape students early in professional careers when foundationalbeliefs are being formed. New professionals rely on their facultymentors to help them make sense of the unfamiliar professionalterrain (Skovholt & Ronnestad, 1992). Research supports the es-sential role of mentortng relationships in the graduate student'sacademic success (el-Guebaly & Atkinson, 1996), professional ori-entation (Rubeck. Donnelly, Jarecky. & Murphy-Spencer. 1995),and professional growth (Knox & McGovern. 1988).

    Stop and think for a moment. In what theoretical orientation doyou feel most comfortable? What is the role of research in coun-seling? What is the importance of informal faculty-student rela-tionships? In each of these areas, it is likely that each one of uscan point to an influential faculty mentor who helped to shapeour opinions; it is possible that we continue to advocate for thesebeliefs without ever clearly articulating how they were formed orwhether we truly support them. Just as we inherited assump-tions about the world from our families. we have inherited beliefsabout the counseling profession from our academic families. Un-covering those beliefs. tracing their lineage. and developing anunderstanding of the professional self through the search is thepurpose of the academic genogram assignment.


    The genogram is a commonly used technique in counseling and coun-selor training. Genograms have their roots in family counseling andfacilitate an examination of historical influences on a person's cur-rent functioning (Halevy, 1998). They typically span at least threegenerations and are used as visual aids to uncover patterns and themulttgenerattonal transmission of family influences (Young & Long,1998). Genograms can be used to trace family influence in variouscontexts. Clients in career counseling draft genograms to under-stand career influences (Okiishi, 1987). They are used to promotecultural identity (Kelly, 1990), to delineate family influence on aca-demic success (Rita & Adejanju, 1993), and to examine the impact ofthe family on sexual functioning (Hof& Berman, 1986). Within coun-selortratntng, the genogram is considered an important tool for helpingtherapists develop self-understanding and is a common assignmentin family counseling courses (Hardy & Laszloffy, 1995).


  • The traditional genogram has been criticized for its narrow defi-nition of family as a biological entity and has been broadened byWatts-Jones (1997) to include functional as well as biologicalties. The academic genogram uses this broader definition of agenogram, and the "functional family" that influences the pro-fessional development of the student is his or her professionalnetwork (Kreiser, Ham, Wiggers, & Feldstein, 1991). Thus, justas career influences, sexual influences, myths, beliefs, and val-ues can be traced through a family genogram, professional Influ-ences can be traced through an academic genogram,


    The academic genogram is an assignment given to doctoral stu-dents in a doctoral orientation counselor education course. It isdesigned to encourage students to trace their academic roots.Students are asked to draw a genogram, as they would with afamily, that traces their academic lineage. They may select theirmaster's or doctoral level advisor (or both) as a beginning point.They interview the selected faculty member and learn about thementor(s) that influenced his or her professional life. After learn-ing all they can from that individual, they contact the mentor'smentor and conduct an interview, and continue the process as farback as possible.

    Phone calls, e-mail, and letters are the primary methods forcommunicating with mentors, but students are encouraged to becreative in looking for information from secondary sources, suchas journals and professional organizations. What types of articlesdid the person write? To what professional organizations did heor she belong? Did he or she produce any video or audiotapedrecords? These sources can reveal valuable information about aperson's professional identity and values.

    When students find that a mentor they are investigating is de-ceased or unavailable, they can reach out to others for assistance.Important collateral information can be gleaned from spouses,former colleagues, and former advtsees, As long as the student iswill1ng to assume the role of an investigator, there is much his-tory to be learned.

    The selection of individuals to trace is intentionally left vague.Students are free to select their starting point, and each personalong the lineage selects influential academic mentors, not nec-essarily academic advisors exclusively. Likewise, there is nospecific number of individuals to be traced; students are free tochoose only one mentor, or they can choose several. When men-tors choose more than one mentor to discuss, the richness of the


  • assignment grows. Of course, with each new person added to thechart, the complexity of the assignment grows as well. The pa-rameters are flexible to allow for the unfolding of the unique expe-riences of each academic lineage.

    When the investigation has been completed, students graphi-cally represent their lineage (as in a traditional genogram) andalso provide a narrative of the professional themes they have un-covered in their search. These can be shared with the class andprovide a rich foundation for class discussions, especially in thesmall group format typical of doctoral-level classes. With a guidedclassroom discussion, students can be helped to articulate theinfluences of the past on their current professional development.

    Professional Themes

    As students uncover their academic lineage, they begin to tracethemes that resonate throughout the generations, just as theywould if they were developing a traditional genogram, Some themesare mentioned by all members ofthe lineage, and others are trace-able only through one or two branches. Of course, some themesbecome apparent by their notable absence when no one in thelineage mentions them. Some of the themes that can be pursuedare listed below, but the list is endless and depends on the par-ticular lineage being traced.

    Faculty as agents of socialization into the profession. Themes re-garding beliefs about the importance of professional organizations,the value of research, and the role of teaching and mentortng arecommon. For example, some "ancestors" will note how they all meetwith their mentors and mentees annually at the American Counsel-ing Association convention, indicating the importance of attendingprofessional conferences. Others will talk about their mentor's ex-cellence in teaching and their own desire to become proficient inteaching so that they can model that behavior. For others, the im-portance of mentortng itselfwill be an important topic of discussion.

    Research agendas. Mentors often provide research experiencesfor their mentees in the mentor's area of research. Thus, researchagendas sometimes can be traced through several generations.Although research topics are often thematically linked throughthe generations, so are attitudes toward research itself, with alove of quantitative or qualitative investigation often being trans-mitted through the generations.

    Intellectual and personal development. The degree to which per-sonal and professional selves are merged, the level of satisfactionwith the chosen profession, and the degree to which one chal-lenges him- or herself intellectually and professionally are com-


  • ponents that can be traced through the lineage. Mentors who stayknowledgeable about the latest research, attend conferences. andare open to learning new ways of thinking can pass that desire forlifelong learning along to the students they mentor.

    Career and educational aspirations. Just as with research agen-das, specializations within the field of counseling can be trans-mitted from mentor to mentee. Students may enter a programwith a generalist approach and work closely with a specialist inmarriage and family counseling or gerontological counseling. Be-fore long. the student becomes captivated with the specialty. andthus becomes an expert in the field. Although the academicgenogram predisposes the search to lead to individuals who workin academia, if the search parameters were broadened to counsel-ing mentors outside the world of academia (e.g.. clinical and schoolsupervisors), students might uncover particular types of practi-tioners in their lineage as well.

    Afmal word on themes. Just as in the counseling relationship.if the student enters the interviewwith an academic ancestor holdinga predetermined set of questions or ideas about the outcome, theirsuccess will be limited. Students should have broad topical dis-cussion outlines (e.g.. What is your research line? What is yourtheoretical approach?) but should not be locked into a structuredinterview. With flexibility and animated give-and-take discussions,the opportunities for learning are enhanced.


    The excitement and enthusiasm generated by the assignment isbest described by a doctoral student who has gone through theexperience. What follows is a first-person account of the assign-ment by the third author.

    When I learned about David Hothersall's History of Psychologyassignment of tracing my academic lineage. I was not enthusiastic.The lack of excitement probably reflected the fact that, as a secondyear doctoral student. I have faced countless assignments. and thiswas merely "another one." The assignment, however. developed intoone of the most profound experiential exercises that I have had inmy 4 years of graduate work. In order to explain its tremendousimpact. I have divided my discussion of the assignment into fourcomponents: requirements, process, product, and reflections.

    Requirements of the Academic Genogram

    Hothersall's suggestions for completing the academic genogramconsisted of first contacting our advisor. Based on his 15-year


  • experience of assigning this project to graduate students. he indi-cated that most advisors are very willing and interested in shar-ing their historical influences and research interests with theiradvtsees, Hothersall also suggested that as we traced our lineage.we should focus on areas of interest. research. and scholarly con-trfbutlons. He provided us with some resources to help us in oursearch. Several ofthese are listed in theAppendix. Finally. Hothersallrecommended that we interview other Ohio State University fac-ulty members and graduate students to help us get started andnoted that in the past. retired faculty members have been espe-cially helpful.


    I first contacted my advisor. Darcy Haag Granello and met withher to begin the assignment. I was immediately impressed withthe enthusiasm with which she spoke of her advisors and men-tors and in the many ways that they had influenced her. She alsoemphasized the importance of mentonng in her own development.She mentioned how often she communicates with her mentorsand that she often works with these individuals to publish papersand to discuss new ideas. She gave me the information I neededto contact these special people. I left our meeting much more ex-cited and enthusiastic. I also felt a stronger sense of ownership inmy own academic lineage and a newfound cunostty about wherethis path would lead.

    After contacting my advisor's mentors. my own enthusiasmheightened. Through e-mail and telephone conversations. I learneda great deal about the origins of the counselor education profes-sion. This experiential learning process proved to be much morevaluable than any information that I could read in a book. I wasstruck by the strong influences that our advisors and mentorshave on advisees' interests and wnttngs throughout a lifetime.The relationships seemed very powerful and it surprtsed me my own academic lineage. these relationships are ongoing ones.

    When I contacted each person. I explained the assignment andasked for a short history of his or her professional development.Some provided me with copies of their vitaes, given in person orsent via the Internet, while others simply talked while I listened.After learning some of the facts. I then moved into discussionsabout prtorttles, interests. research, and teaching. I allowed eachparticipant to share what he or she felt was most important forunderstanding my roots. When the person finished telling me abouthis or her professional life. I then asked for some names and con-tact data of that person's professional mentors. In each case. the