# Of the best mathematicians, how many are upstarts vs. legacies?

1. Top Mathematician
kuxp

By “upstart,” I mean someone who has no apparent family history in academia. By “legacy” I mean somebody who has at least one blood relative in academia.

1 weekkuxp
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2. Top Mathematician
bzvn

Legacies seem to be more frequent in US academia due to the weakness of their educational system at the HS level.

1 weekbzvn
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3. Top Mathematician
mqdq

Legacies are much, much, much more common.

1 weekmqdq
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4. Top Mathematician
ikeh

Very good to upper mediocre: legacies

Best: upstarts

At least that's been my experience.

1 weekikeh
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5. Top Mathematician
crzv

Very good to upper mediocre: legacies

Best: upstarts

At least that's been my experience.

The way the world works is the opposite: the higher the threshold of selection the more enriched the population on all background variables that positively correlate with success.

1 weekcrzv
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6. Top Mathematician
zerf

Very good to upper mediocre: legacies

Best: upstarts

At least that's been my experience.

The way the world works is the opposite: the higher the threshold of selection the more enriched the population on all background variables that positively correlate with success.

The population of people who are not academics is much larger; and, there's regression to the mean.

1 weekzerf
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7. Top Mathematician
baze

Selectivity does not necessarily yield quality. A picky eater doesn’t have great taste in food.

Very good to upper mediocre: legacies

Best: upstarts

At least that's been my experience.

The way the world works is the opposite: the higher the threshold of selection the more enriched the population on all background variables that positively correlate with success.

1 weekbaze
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8. Top Mathematician
ivfi

Having one or both parents in academia correlates very strongly with success in academia. Not having parents in academia is probably a much higher barrier than gender/race. It has always puzzled me why there is DEI for the latter but not for candidates without college-educated parents.

1 weekivfi
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9. Top Mathematician
ltmn

Having one or both parents in academia correlates very strongly with success in academia. Not having parents in academia is probably a much higher barrier than gender/race. It has always puzzled me why there is DEI for the latter but not for candidates without college-educated parents.

It’s incongruous to be sure, but you don’t have to pretend to be confused by it here. This is a safe space.

1 weekltmn
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10. Top Mathematician
mykg

Having one or both parents in academia correlates very strongly with success in academia. Not having parents in academia is probably a much higher barrier than gender/race. It has always puzzled me why there is DEI for the latter but not for candidates without college-educated parents.

even if your parents didn't go to college, being a white male means your colleagues are less likely to doubt your abilities.

1 weekmykg
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11. Top Mathematician
uopg

Having one or both parents in academia correlates very strongly with success in academia. Not having parents in academia is probably a much higher barrier than gender/race. It has always puzzled me why there is DEI for the latter but not for candidates without college-educated parents.

even if your parents didn't go to college, being a white male means your colleagues are less likely to doubt your abilities.

Disagree. All the people in my field who I know and consider idiots are white males. The women, no.

1 weekuopg
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12. Top Mathematician
yhff

It has always puzzled me why there is DEI for the latter but not for candidates without college-educated parents.

Your premise is wrong. At least at the undergraduate level and graduate level, coming from a poor family or being a first generation college applicant student gives you an advantage in admissions. Some places have specific scholarships for this case, others just include it in the list of DEI.

At the postdoc/TT level it probably doesn't help much (although I've heard it mentioned in at least one TT hiring meeting). For grants a broader impacts component, a believable plan to involve people with a lower social background without referring to personal characteristics is also a powerful way to address DEI while convincing DEI skeptics (e.g. Russians) on the panel to support you.

1 weekyhff
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13. Top Mathematician
qnge
[...]

even if your parents didn't go to college, being a white male means your colleagues are less likely to doubt your abilities.

Disagree. All the people in my field who I know and consider idiots are white males. The women, no.

this proves my point, assuming these men in question are actual idiots: white men are given the benefit of doubt if they are somehow employed in spite of being idiots.

1 weekqnge
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14. Top Mathematician
enyx

Legacies seem to be more frequent in US academia due to the weakness of their educational system at the HS level.

Weakness in US education doesn't start at HS.

1 weekenyx
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15. Top Mathematician
jczs

Legacies seem to be more frequent in US academia due to the weakness of their educational system at the HS level.

Weakness in US education doesn't start at HS.

I guess technically it starts at birth because Americans live in an idiocracy :P Even in very good school districts, there are few math nerds, and hardly anyone teaches IB Further Mathematics like they do in Europe.

1 weekjczs
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16. Top Mathematician
wekg

The way the world works is the opposite: the higher the threshold of selection the more enriched the population on all background variables that positively correlate with success.> The population of people who are not academics is much larger; and, there's regression to the mean.

Normally that would be true, but he was talking about what happens at the "Best" level, and from bios of Fields medalists and the like it seems legacy is already an absolute majority, not just overrepresented.

1 weekwekg
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17. Top Mathematician
wekg

Unless you have a notion of "Best" that doesn't correlate with all the usual success promoters, then whatever your scale of quality may be, the stated phenomenon will hold as you climb high enough on it.

Selectivity does not necessarily yield quality. A picky eater doesn’t have great taste in food.

The way the world works is the opposite: the higher the threshold of selection the more enriched the population on all background variables that positively correlate with success.

1 weekwekg
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18. Top Mathematician
wekg

Having one or both parents in academia correlates very strongly with success in academia.

It correlates primarily due to genetics, the non-genetic contribution (advising, networks, familiarity with system) is smaller though not unimportant.

Not having parents in academia is probably a much higher barrier than gender/race. It has always puzzled me why there is DEI for the latter but not for candidates without college-educated parents.

All the leading US schools have DEI for those, which they call "first-generation" college students, at least for admission to undergraduate. It is not nearly as big a bonus as being black, or female for a math program, but it is there to some extent.

1 weekwekg
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19. Top Mathematician
xcwi

An nature study found that 22% of professors had a parent with a PhD (Nat Hum Behav 6, 1625–1633 (2022). Although, the fields studied didn't include math.

My postdoc advisor ordered me to do undergraduate research with his son. The son went on to study the same subfield of math as his father, then was hired by his father for a postdoc. After the postdoc, he left academia for an industry job. The whole situation was embarrassing for the department.

1 weekxcwi
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20. Top Mathematician
ceqg

John Pardon, Will Sawin, Daniel Kane, Daniel Kriz, Maria Monks, and Margaret Bilu are examples of legacies. Their parent(s) are also math professors.

Zoia Ceaușescu was the ultimate startup or anti-legacies. Her parents were peasant communist dictators who opposed her pursuit of math PhD, even dismantled the math institute she worked in. Zoia had published very well by the standard of her time, getting ~ 300 google scholar citations despite the ages of the papers. Zoia Ceaușescu's Erdős number is 2.

1 weekceqg
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