Early summer 1995 and I’m in Northampton for the first time in my life, being interviewed for the post of Lecturer in Ecology at what was then Nene College*, the institution that evolved into the University of Northampton a decade later. The interview went well, as I was offered the job, but I was very irritated by one of the comments made by a senior member of the panel (now retired). He asked me about my background and how I came to this point in my career, and whether my parents had been to university.
This had no relevance to the job I’d applied for as far as I could see, but I responded that my father had originally been a coal miner, then subsequently had worked in construction, my mother a housewife with occasional part-time cleaning jobs. I’d attended a large local comprehensive school in the North East and achieved terrible grades at A-level, and had eventually got to university by a rather circuitous route.
“Oh” said the panel member superciliously “You’ve done very well for yourself, haven’t you?”
My initial reaction was that I wanted to say: “Yes, with a good first degree and a PhD, I have done very well for myself, thank you very much, but I don’t need you to tell me that so fuck off and stop being such a patronising prick”. But I needed a job and figured that this response was unlikely to go in my favour. So I quietly agreed and seethed on the train home.
Why am I telling you this story? Because there’s a great article over at the Times Higher’s website by Caroline Magennis, who asked a question on Twitter about how academics from less privileged backgrounds felt about their current roles and some of the barriers they had had to face. It’s well worth reading; a bit of clueless condescension in a job interview is at the low end of a spectrum of experiences that people have shared with her.
*NEN College, not NEEN College