St Andrews Traditions: Part 5 Academic Families

Carley St Andrews Traditons

One of the most amazing and unique things about being a student at the University of St Andrews is that there’s very much a tradition of the older years helping the younger ones; it’s why a lot of wardens in halls are post graduate students, why societies ensure that everyone gets to know each other and why, most importantly, first years often spend a great deal of their Freshers Week running around saying ‘I don’t have a mum! I don’t have a dad!’

Academic families really sets St Andrews apart from other universities. It’s a tradition which goes back some time; older students ‘adopting’ first year students to make sure they have people they can talk to, that there are older kids around to look after them, occasionally feed them and walk them home if they’ve had a few too many drinks in the union. However, the process of ‘getting’ an academic family can seem complicated – so here’s a short guide on how to ensure you find the perfect academic parents!

St Andrews Academic Mum, academic sister and I
Me with my academic mum and academic sister at the St Andrews Opening Ball in 2006.

What you need to know: during any Freshers Week, there’s often a bit of a scrum as third and fourth year students find their town inundated with newbies who get super-excited about the union or don’t know where the Lizard is. Some students become annoyed with all of these new, overexcited faces in the town, whilst others get somewhat protective over them. However nice an older student is to you when you first arrive in St Andrews, believe me, they’re probably trying to work out if you’d be a good academic child!

St Andrews Academic Dad, Academic sister, academic uncle and I
My Academic dad, sister, uncle and I in the union in my first year.

Third and Fourth year students are ‘allowed’ to adopt children (I say ‘allowed’, because technically, no one is stopping a second year from adopting, but it’s just not the done thing) – unless you’re a medic, and only around for three years and therefore can adopt in your second year. Asking someone to join your academic family can be a pretty big deal – often, it’ll mean that you join a whole family line, with aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, grandparents and grandchildren – and some families even pass rented accommodation on the best streets in St Andrews down through the academic family generations.

St Andrews Acadmic Kids in 2008
Me with my academic kids back in 2008

When it comes to finding academic parents, there’s only two real rules to remember; 1 – You can ask any third of fourth year to become your academic mother, but a potential academic father should ask you to become their child. 2 – Either side can say no, so don’t hesitate to rebuff a potential academic dad if he’s not for you, and don’t get too sad if a potential academic mum turns you down – she may not be adopting that year, or may already have too many kids!

St Andrews Academic Mum and older sister
My academic mum and older sister at a rainbow party which my mum organised for all her kids!

Some people choose to set up a ‘family unit’ before they have kids – which means that you get mum-and-dad as a combo, rather than two separate people. This can be useful come Raisin Weekend, and it’s also nice to have ‘full’ academic siblings – people who share both the same mum and dad as you. However, it’s also possible to have the same academic mum and dad as your friends if you just happen to ask the same mum and dad to adopt you – which is what happened to me! I have a ‘full’ academic sister and brother – Rosie and Guy – because we all just happened to be adopted by the same people!

Academic Dad making dinner for his kids
My academic dad used to make dinner for his kids fairly regularly!

So what should you look for in academic parents? Well, if you already know people when you arrive in St Andrews, they will often offer to adopt you – I adopted one of my academic kids a full year before he even started university! In terms of both academic mothers and fathers, finding someone who can cook you the odd meal is always good – my parents would make dinner for me around once a month in my first year, and it definitely meant that we always had a good chat and that I didn’t have to buy my own dinner! Parents having the same interests as you is always good too – I know a lot of people who have found their academic parents at society meetings or at theatre auditions – so don’t hesitate to ask people if you are at a meeting. Also, try and steer clear of academic parents who seem to be hitting on you – if you want to have a good relationship with your academic parents over your academic career, it’s a good idea to not become romantically involved with your parents – it can become awkward, and committing academic incest (aka getting involved with someone that you’re ‘related’ to – including siblings, aunts and uncles or grandparents!) is a sin which can only be wiped out by performing the May Dip!

The biggest role of academic parents is to navigate their kids through the craziness of Raisin Weekend; from mum’s feeding their kids breakfast (and shots!) to fathers giving ridiculous items as Raisin Receipts! Find out more about the unreal St Andrews tradition that is Raisin Weekend in my next post!

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2 Comment

  1. […] so easy to bump into a friend-of-a-friend and suddenly realise that actually, you’re probably academically related. […]

  2. […] Academic parents (pictured above).  At St. Andrews it is a tradition for older students to adopt the freshers.  Usually they are from you hall, classes, societies, or sports and tend to be Juniors or Seniors.  The point of adopting is to help the freshers (or occasional lost study abroad student) to navigate their way through their four years at university and to enjoy Raisin weekend which is in mid October. I had been warned not to accept any parental offers in the first week, but I think this one will work out.  My mum is Alison.  She is on the football (soccer) club and a science major.  She’s super sweet and, even better, came along with an academic father who she is ‘married’ to (in academic parenthood, not real life). So in gaining a new mum, I gained a new dad as well.  His name is Jack and he’s a psychology major who dabbles in football.  We happen to have a class together which works out very nicely because most people I know are either freshers or not biology or neuroscience majors.  They are both wicked nice and wonderfully weird, although hopefully they will find at least one other poor fresher who needs guiding so I can have a brother/sister to join in on my “I swear we won’t be too mean” condoned hazing. […]

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