For Working-Class Academics is, perhaps, quite UK-centric, but it nevertheless brings some of my own experience to mind. And more so now that I am nearing the end of my career and I sometimes look back on it all.

I have an academic degree but can hardly say I have had an ‘academic career’ as I have only worked in the private sector in a job I perhaps got into based on some basic ‘academic skills’ but that otherwise has nothing to do with what I spent those years studying. In retrospect, my choice of study was ill-advised, leading neither to an academic career, nor a career where I could directly use whatever I was taught at university.

But I did choose that study because it interested me at the time, and my parents were not capable of guiding me or discussing if it was a good choice — they were, however, profoundly proud of my being the first academic in the family (not completely true, as it turned out that at least two cousins also ended up pursuing higher education). And they supported me in any way they could, with no conditions.

But this is not the main takeaway from my university years. That was that class matters. In many small and larger ways: finding a place to live? Well, my uncle happens to own an apartment building, so … A nice, well-paid summer job? Well, my uncle … A trainee job after graduation? Well, my uncle … It is just that people from certain family backgrounds had a somewhat easier time than us working-class academics. But subtle, it was subtle.

Now: I have children of my own who have embarked on their careers. At least, we have been able to help with general advice and feedback, and as much economic support as possible. But it is probably another generation or two before we will be on par with my erstwhile fellow students.

© Henning Bertram 2024