“The Apple does not fall far from the tree”, and academic families (like teacher like student ?)

“The Apple does not fall far from the tree”  — so goes a popular saying, often applied to family characteristics but I think it also applies to academic families. Not a terribly new thought, but worth some musing, especially in the context of Indian science where such families have formed for the first time. Some professors are particularly active in building their family tree. Students of a family often work on similar problems, and stick together. Not always, but it is a frequently observed pattern. Hence my use of the quote “The Apple does not fall far from the tree”.

It cannot be denied that students do acquire certain values of the adviser. If the teacher professor is honest and scrupulous, students tend to be honest and scrupulous. If the professor is hard working, students value hard work.

The opposite is also true. I know from first hand experience that some students are unfortunate to have  acquired negative values. When the professor is a troublemaker, his/her students often turn out to be the same.  May be the bad values/characteristics are picked up more easily ? May be it is very hard to induct good virtues ?

There have been professors who have been particularly impressive. In Chemistry, Linus Pauling has an impressive student list. I just mention Martin Karplus as one example. Now Martin Karplus has produced impressive students : Peter Rossky, Atila Szabo, Iwao Ohmine, Andy McCammon, and many others. I once asked Professor Karplus what is the secret of his success with students. His humble answer was that he was the only theoretician at Harvard Chemistry those days doing the kind of theory that students found attractive.

I found many of the students of Prof. Karplus also humble, soft spoken. Interesting similarities. They all are different in their personal lives, but seems to bear that common signature. Of course, all of them (my friends) will probably (vehemently) object to my observations.

In India Professor Sadhan Basu produced impressive students like Mihir Chowdhury, Animesh Chakraborty, Sunil Poddar, Ashish Chandra ….  I myself attended his lectures during my M.Sc. years. He was magnetic. Full of vigour and tremendous insight. I still remember his saying as he was teaching Bohr’s theory ” Science is science, philosophy is philosophy and science is not philosophy”. He was arguing against metaphysics — I forgot the exact context. He also taught us polymer chemistry (mainly the physical parts) and photochemistry. I am still grateful to the insights he provided which helped a lot in my PhD research. A generation remains grateful to Prof Sadhan Basu.

The famous Professors J N Ghosh, S S Bhatnagar, J N Mukherjee,  Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai  all produced outstanding students who played highly important role in academics of  post-independent India.

I know that I have missed many names but that is not deliberate. It is just laziness, and lack of knowledge on my part.

As always, I come to the central point now that we are coming towards the end of this blog, and again, this is directed towards students and young researchers. If your Professor (commonly referred to as Boss in student lingo) turns out not to be the ideal role model that you deserve, do not copy him. Be conscious and conscientious. You do need a role model to build yourself. Remember the story of Ekalavya in Mahabharata?  Look around, you will find somebody who has a strong academic value and integrity. No revolt or strong dissent is necessary but slow orientation will suffice. This will do you good. And you can be proud of yourself one day.


Biman Bagchi, Bengaluru.




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