The Academic Descent to Me

How interesting, today I learned that Derek Burgess, the PhD supervisor of my PhD supervisor (Brian McMaster) was himself supervised by Frank Smithies. With a little help from the Mathematical Genealogy Project this has helped me work out my academic “parentage”.

  1. Colin Turner, Queen’s University of Belfast, 1997
  2. Brian McMaster, Queen’s University of Belfast, 1972
  3. Derek Burgess, University of Cambridge, 1951
  4. Frank Smithies, University of Cambridge, 1937
  5. G. H. Hardy, University of Cambridge
  6. Edmund Whittaker, University of Cambridge, 1895
  7. Andrew Forsyth, University of Cambridge, 1881
  8. Arthur Cayley, University of Oxford / University College Dublin / Universiteit Leiden, 1864,1865,1875
  9. William Hopkins, University of Cambridge, 1830 (Note his many famous students)
  10. Adam Sedgwick, University of Cambridge, 1811
  11. Thomas Jones, University of Cambridge, 1782
  12. Thomas Postlethwaite, University of Cambridge, 1756
  13. Stephen Whisson, University of Cambridge, 1742
  14. Walter Taylor, University of Cambridge, 1723
  15. Robert Smith, University of Cambridge, 1715
  16. Roger Cotes, University of Cambridge, 1706
  17. Isaac Newton, University of Cambridge, 1668
  18. Isaac Barrow, University of Cambridge, 1652
  19. Vincenzio Viviani
  20. Galileo Galilei, University of Pisa

I think I’ll stop there. I found this absolutely fascinating, many notable figures, and Hopkins supervised many famous figures. It’s a shame I could never hope to live up to such a line!

Heaven gets an Audit

This is a whimsical storyline I knocked out this morning. If you don’t know much about HE (Higher Education) or the QAA it may not mean anything to you. Indeed, you might need to know a little bit about the Metatron. and some other Judeo/Christian theology to follow this. Absolutely no offence is intended to anyone!

There was a polite knock on the door. The Metatron looked up from his desk and bade the guest to enter. And so Michael, Field Marshal of the Heavenly Host entered the room, a troubled look on his normally serene face.

“Peter says we have an unusual guest at the gates. He claims to be from something called the ‘QAA'”, he said.

“The QAA?”

“Yes, some sort of Quality Assurance Agency.”

“And why are they here?”

“Apparently”, and here Michael paused for a moment, “they want to audit just how heavenly Heaven is…”


“They say that there are some metrics which cast some doubt on the issue apparently.”

“But Heaven is the definition of perfection. How could anything be found wanting?”

Michael looked wretched for a moment.

“He’s asking if this is so, how was it that we had… the Incident…?”


“Well,… he’s saying that if everything here is so great and perfect how come we have a, what were the words he used again? Oh yes…. a retention problem.”


“Apparently yes, this is one of the metrics they use. They are apparently concerned that our ‘First Output’ showed an ‘attrition rate’ of a third.”

“Did you tell him about Free Will? That it’s up to sentient creatures to choose their own path?”



“He says everyone uses that excuse.”

The Metatron paused while he considered this.

“OK, so what next?”

“Apparently they want to see the figures to see if this is a one time ‘blip’, they are asking for our ‘Academic Plan’ for the next output.”

“Oh dear…”

“Is that a problem?”

The Metatron thumbed through some documents on his desk.

“Apparently we only intend to ‘retain’ 144,000 of our second output.”

“Out of how many?”

“Well, sort of, um, 100 billion and counting so far.”

“Isn’t that an attrition rate of over 99.999%?”

“Yes,… do you think that will present a problem?”

The two angels considered for a moment, after a while, the Metatron cleared his throat again.

“Do you think we could classify purgatory as an exit award?”