Expert panel examines barriers faced by working class academics

Our Class Ceiling panel discussion event on 6 November brought together leading writers, journalists and academics to discuss the thorny topic of class in scholarship.

Chaired by Dr Sally Marlow, the BRC’s Champion for research impact and engagement, the panel explored barriers to entry into academia for working-class people, obstacles to career progression once there, and potential solutions or areas where change is needed.

Topics that were covered included money and debt, short-term rolling contracts, the need for role models and mentors, accents and codes of behaviour, and the tricky issue of defining class.

The panel discussion was followed by a Q&A session with audience members, many of whom shared their own experiences of being working class academics, and thoughts on the changes necessary to encourage and value diversity in academia.

Positive aspects of a working-class heritage were also touched upon, with some commenting that people from disadvantaged backgrounds are often better at putting others at ease and getting the best out of students.

The panel consisted of:

  • Chair: Dr Sally Marlow, radio broadcaster and NIHR Maudsley BRC champion for research impact and engagement.
  • Dr Sam Friedman, Associate Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics, and Commissioner at the Social Mobility Commission. Author of The Class Ceiling: Why it Pays to be Privileged.
  • Dr Cerisse Gunasinghe, postdoctoral researcher and Counselling Psychologist in the department of Psychological Medicine at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London.
  • Dr Paul Craddock, cultural historian and author.

Dr Sally Marlow said: “Unlike gender or ethnicity, class isn’t a protected characteristic, so there aren’t the same support systems available to people, and the topic of class as a barrier is rarely discussed. These barriers can take many different forms, including things like language and accents, and unconstructive behavioural codes, as well as more practical things like money and debt, or a lack of support systems and safety nets.

There is clearly a need for role models and mentors – the sense of relief and rapport was palpable in the room today as people heard others sharing experiences similar to their own. But systemic change is also needed, and this relies on wider acknowledgement of the role of privilege in academia.”

If you missed our event, or would like to recap the evening, please see the video below


Tags: NIHR Maudsley BRC -

By NIHR Maudsley BRC at 7 Nov 2019, 13:16 PM


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