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I am a freelance writer doing some reporting on the 120th birthday of a scientist who died in the 90s. I've already talked with one of his colleagues and have plans to talk with more of them, but I'm hoping to find a person or two who worked on their PhD research with him as their advisor.

Is there a systematic way I can do this? Or do I just need to follow my current approach of Googling dozens of variations on the phrase "advised by John Smith"? (I'm also currently asking existing contacts for any students they might remember working under the guy.)

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    If the scientist was (even in broad terms) a mathematician, there is the math genealogy project, at mathgenealogy.org Feb 7 at 21:58

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https://academictree.org/ is an option. It's not going to be comprehensive, though, it's based on crowdsourced contributions, and I'd expect it to be especially sparse as you go back in time unless you're looking at someone particularly famous.

Otherwise, I'd look at coauthors on their papers.

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    Coauthors are the way to go…
    – Jon Custer
    Feb 8 at 1:59
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Here's a few possibilities.

Ask his department.

Ask a librarian from his university. My graduate school's library does list thesis/dissertation adviser[sic] in the bibliographic record but I haven't figured out how to reliably search the correct fields.

Maybe contact the university archive if there is one.

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