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Little Science Talks: Season 1, Episode 5

by | Oct 10, 2021 | Little Science Talks Podcast | 0 comments

The first season of the Little Science Talks podcast focuses on generational influences in STEM. Little Science Co Founder, Heidi Gardner will be joined by her co-host Anna Kebke, along with a different guest for each episode.

The first season of the Little Science Talks podcast focuses on generational influences in STEM. Little Science Co Founder, Heidi Gardner will be joined by her co-host Anna Kebke, along with a different guest for each episode.

In our fifth episode we’re joined by Teresa Crew, a Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of Bangor. Teresa joins us to talk about her research with working class academics, and how working class academics specifically working in STEM subjects present and experience the academy. Teresa is a proud working class academic, and has been told multiple times that people like being taught by her because she’s ‘normal’. At first, she thought this may be a gender thing, but after speaking to some male working class academics, it became clear that it wasn’t a gender thing, it was a class thing. Her research delves further into experiences of working class academics, and Teresa steers away from any sort of negativity as she showcases the wonderful contributions that working class academics make to university life.

Heidi 
Hello, and welcome to episode five of Little Science Talks. Today we are joined by the wonderful Teresa Crew, Teresa, Welcome. Do you want to introduce yourself? 

Teresa
Yes, I’m Teresa Crew. I’m a Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at Bangor University. 

Heidi 
And you’re the first person on the podcast who is not a STEM person. 

Teresa
Yes. That’s correct. Yes. I’m not, I’m not in your club

Heidi 
You can join our club. It’s fine. We’re very open here.

Anna 
Come over to the dark side

Heidi 
So you’re not,like, an actual STEM person, but you do research with STEM people, essentially

Teresa
Yes, yes I have 

Heidi
So what’s your sort of, what’s your research background? 

Teresa
So after doing my PhD, I did my PhD in relation to graduates, and a kept on coming up and I kept being called normal, and I kept hearing the word normal related to me. So just that instant led me to start doing a research project in relation to working-class academics.  I intended to interview perhaps say 10 people and it just be a small project. But when I put the call out for people to take part, I was absolutely bombarded with people who wanted to actually talk about being a working-class academic. And obviously, within that, I interviewed people, not just most people think I’ve just interviewed people from might say social sciences, but I contribute across the spectrum. And that obviously includes stem to stem academics as well. 

Heidi
So that word. It comes up a lot and I’ve heard it a lot with regards to like my own conversations with different people as well. Someone I was talking to you last week, described it as like dirt under your fingernails type a normal, like a bit of a grafter. So how did that sort of spring into a working-class academic research portfolio? 

Teresa
Well, so when the students, so it was always, students that said this to me and I knew what they mean. They just meant that they could talk to me without perhaps sensors when they were talking. They could just say, for instance, oh, I’ve had a particularly, you know, not very nice day. You could say, I’m not worried about the words that they use, but then the more I heard it, I just thought so this is a point of difference between me as a working-class academic was, you know, normally people might think it was my gender, but I knew it was not based in gender because that’s spoken to male working-class academics and they came up with the same thing. So I just thought I’m just gonna investigate. What does this mean? What does it mean to be normal?

I think it’s just that, that they would perhaps not necessarily see me as an academic first, so I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but they felt comfortable talking to me like it’s their mum or a next-door neighbour, that sort of thing, I think, and that’s where the research projects came from. 

Heidi 
Yeah, I love that. I think it’s a really, like, it’s such a positive thing that your students view you as like someone that they can actually go and talk to because there are so many people in academia that obviously don’t have that vibe that, that isn’t like normal in academia. Normal is the outlier essentially.

​​Teresa 
Yeah, it’s mad really, the fact that I see, even now thinking that, that is positive that students feel they can speak to me like that. That’s so sad because all I can do is just teach a couple of subjects. You know, as in, as I say to students, I’m starting new modules now on particular subjects. I might know a little bit more than you, but there are lots of subjects, where you know a little bit more than me. So that’s how I want my courses to run, you know? And that’s, that’s why I tell my students that they come into my modules, not for me just to talk about them. Not all students do struggle with this sometimes because a lot of times students will say, oh, I don’t feel comfortable talking, or I have anxiety. 

These are all things I take into concern when I’m actually teaching. But it’s important that they know that they come with their own store of capital, their own assets. And it’s important every, academic recognizes that in their students, they’re not there just to be empty vessels, they are actually their own experiences, their own points of view. And that’s just as interesting as what we’re actually teaching as well.

Heidi 
Yeah. It’s definitely something that’s wrong because there are so many academics that I’ve had throughout, like undergrad and, and beyond, I guess, it’s not necessarily a lack of respect.

It’s more of like a, you versus them sort of dynamic that’s built up and being able to have that like community vibe, I guess that you’ve built where it’s like, look, we’re all trying here. I might know a bit, but you’ll know a bit more and we’ll move together sort of thing. 

​​Teresa
Oh, definitely. Yeah. So one of the pieces of feedback I got once one of my lectures is that the only thing that was missing was it was a coffee machine and I thought, that’s right. 

They’re actually not lectures. They are workshops where I teach for 15 minutes on subjects. I set them a task and they come back with what they think because I teach them what social problems. So that’s why even more. So it’d be really strange if I taught about social problems from the point of view “I know everything about this particular subject”. You will sit there and listen and take notes and then regurgitate what I said.

That just feels a bit, it’s just not me. It’s just not me at all. When I realized I didn’t have to do that in academia, but actually I haven’t really done that approach right from the start. But when I had my own modules and I realized I didn’t have to teach the way of the downstairs, it really did open up my approach to teaching. So I definitely would say let the students in more, they’re very interesting and there are lots of little different life experiences. 

Heidi 
As well often they know more than you think in very niche areas too. So when you’re teaching something like sociology and social problems and stuff, It’s obvious that you would need them, you know, their input because they’ve got different life experiences.

Teresa
Yes, definitely. So to not include them in my module would actually show my inexperience. So this year I’m going to teach about basic income. Every time I say basic income, I almost say basic instinct, which is a film, which is not the appropriate thing to say. So I’m not going to teach some basic instincts, I’m going to teach them basic income. They’re going to talk to me about their experiences, what they feel about domestic violence, homelessness, etc. People are going to have their own experiences. And how on earth could I, even with the help of many, many academics who’ve spoken and researched this topic, how can we think we know it all? 

I could teach them, but we’re going to teach each other, basically a module.

Heidi 
I love that. It’s super, super, it’s really nice. And as we said such a refreshing outlook on how to teach, I guess. 

Anna
I think it’s different as well because you know, you’re described as approachable and that’s why they want to share this with you. They wouldn’t share this with someone who, who was just closed off, being like now we’re going to read this book and you’re going to write it down. So I think that’s a really big part of it.

Teresa 
Definitely. I think one of the things as well, I often, because I have to play devil’s advocate with what to say, for instance, if we discuss the need to have a basic income, I would definitely play devil’s advocate and argue against them. So I play a game with that, I say right, Okay. I’m going to be, and I just describe a person who completely disagrees with everything you’re saying, and this is the reason why and it just makes it a lot easier to make yourself bigger than I am.

As in to say, look, you know, if I’m not disagreeing with you, because what you’re saying is wrong, I’m discouraging you because I am this particular, you know, like, um, I give myself a character to play. So that settles them in as well. You know, or I’m hoping so, because I’m gonna teach tomorrow. So I hope because I’ve made it sound good! 

Heidi 
Yeah, can we come as well?

It sounds brilliant. I remember those lectures as well, where the lecturers are playing a character, always stick in the student’s mind more. It’s like one that I had, which is completely irrelevant, but it was kind of funny. We had a lecturer with two rugby balls at the start of like at the front of the desk and we’re in this massive lecture theatre.

And I was like if he’s if this is going to be one of those lectures where, you know, they throw a ball out to make someone answer a question, I was like don’t be that guy. What he did was he lined tables up at the front and he ended up holding the rugby balls under his arm. So they were like over. sat with his feet out. And he was like, this is the vaginal canal. Everyone’s like, what? But that stuck in my mind so much that he was like, sat at the front, essentially being a vagina. I was like, okay. It’s ridiculous. But you know, it does. It helps

And like having those characters as well, also helps to sort of distance yourself, I guess, from any, not necessarily prejudice, but like, it doesn’t necessarily have to be your view. It’s your character’s view. And then you can do this fight back and forward with the students to be like, but what about this?

Teresa 
Prejudice is a good word, actually, because yes, sometimes like for instance, when people are talking about i, so the idea of the module is that we come up with solutions to social problems. So this is like a grand aim of the module. So I have to alter it against some of the solutions that the students come up with. 

So 1. if I was myself, it would sound like the lecture is arguing against what the student is saying and I’m not being mean just cause it’s not very good or an effective approach, but also, yes, I might have to say things like ‘what about the solution that you send to homelessness wouldn’t work, because what about people who are, for instance, lazy’ as there are all these ideas behind homelessness, I have to bring in that. So people can either argue against that. Or even if people actually have some elements affirmed, or feel some element I’ve got to allow them to speak, but just make sure it’s not in a prejudicial way as well. So yeah, it’s a really effective way of making it not me making students feel stupid and making it an open forum, you know, it can be difficult when, the only issue is that sometimes we do talk about really sensitive areas, like domestic violence, mental health, and I do warn my students before that just to be mindful of, you know, when you have an opinion don’t go out just to be hurtful or anything. So I do have rules in that way before the session gets started. But yeah, I love teaching overall, but this is my favourite module that I teach because it’s loads of different topics and I just react to what’s happening in the world right now. So really I should teach about, Petrol shortages maybe, but there are lots of different ways you can go for a module like that and I really enjoy that. And I think that even though, I mean, I loved writing my book, even though I did love it, um, I don’t want to go away for teaching. I would hate to end up being my academic that wrote so much that I couldn’t, you know, I didn’t teach, but more than likely was no chance of that. I’m actually working on so much anyway. So I’m giving myself airs and graces before I’ve even written a second book. 

Heidi 
Have you got a second book on the horizon?

Teresa
I mean, I’m quite lucky. I always have lots of ideas. The problem is actually doing all the ideas. That’s the problem I have. So it’s a nice problem. But the piece of research that I’m looking at next is actually in relation to disability in academia, because when I was interviewing people, although I only interviewed, I think, five to six people who declared they had the disability it became apparent that there was more, it was just strange that the five to six people had a disability were all on temporary contracts. They all had struggles in some shape or form. So I just thought that’s going to be my next project. But if you think about your disability in university, you think students and quite rightly they deserve help. But it’s actually the academics as well, that get left behind. I have epilepsy for instance, and they often, my institution, I can’t think of anything else that could do for me regarding epilepsy, but there are academics who are not supported because of their disability. So I think I always look for our social problem that needs to be sorted, and that’s always the idea of any research that I do. So yeah, that might be a book, but yeah, I’ve got to get started. I’m in the middle of writing up at the moment, the research proposal. So it’s nearly there, maybe ready to start with it. 

Heidi 
It’s just, it’s honestly just really nice to know that there are researchers doing that kind of work because obviously it’s not my research area and I speak to lots of academics all the time that kind of fit into each of these gaps that you’re finding, and then you’re working on, it’s like, oh, I’ve got somewhere to point them so that they don’t feel alone. So I’ve bought your book for like two or three people already and been like, look, it’s okay there’s more of us.

Teresa 
Yeah. And the other thing with my research, I always look for lots of different areas as well. So I couldn’t imagine, I mean, the academics that can do this, I think fair play, because I can’t do this, but I couldn’t just write about one single subject forever. And I just, I find that research always opens up new areas of interest. There will be the intersection of class that’s going to come in regarding, you know, disability, but I just thought if I look at that there’s a couple of really good papers on disability and academia, but I’d really like to add to that mix. That’s the idea, but I’m going to do that when I’m not teaching. 

Heidi 
I was speaking to a PhD student last week. And we were talking about exactly this how disabled academics and neurodivergent academics, in particular, tend to be completely missed by the university. So they tend to like, you know, all of it is geared towards students, which is good, because that’s a big part of the university ecosystem, but PhD students tend to get missed and the staff, tend to get missed. And so there’s a massive gap as to, how do we support these people? And then you have this intersect with temporary contracts and precarity and workload management and all that kind of thing. And it all just kind of comes together into this intersect of like, oh God, how do we solve this?

So I think like knowing that you’ve fingers in lots of different pies with different projects and things like that, I think it’s really important as well, because then you come in, as you’ve said with, you know, a class perspective, you know, into the disability world and potentially other things as we go on, I think that’s a really important thing to sort of bear in mind the other issues that are at play rather than it just being, you know, this person is disabled and therefore that’s the problem that they’re going to be tackling. It’s not, it’s often everything else that’s around them that makes the disability hard because being disabled is not necessarily a negative thing. It’s just society’s view on disability and how you then can’t deal with it. 

Teresa
Well, that’s actually what you’re saying there about disability not necessarily being negative. I couldn’t agree more because that’s, I mean, in regards to my work on working-class academics,  the whole idea that I had when I came into that was, the literature that I’ve seen is brilliant, beautiful literature, but it often focused on the terrible things that happened to working-class academics. And I just thought we really need to focus on the attributes you’ve got as a working-class academic and the same thing with disability as well. So I often, even though I end up like, you know, I teach social problems, I tend to write about some form of a social problem. I like to bring out the positive somewhere because I just think otherwise it’s a focus on like deficit thinking. I’m just not really not a fan of that. For instance, I have epilepsy, perhaps my experience is extremely different to somebody else’s, so, there are some positives with any disability, you know, as in obviously a huge amount of negatives, but I just think we need to see people with disabilities in much more rounded apart from just having a disability. I’m not Teresa with epilepsy, I am Teresa. 

Heidi 
Definitely, it’s kind of trying to get people to move as well from like that medical model of you’re disabled and therefore let’s look at you as a disabled person and to social modelling and being, like, let’s use your disability, let’s look at it and be like, right, how do we need to change the things around you to make sure that you can live a full social life. I think that that often is what universities tend to miss as well as just kind of, they do see a person with a disability goes on to list with a certain disability, you know, indication or characteristic, and then the rest of their passions or hobbies or whatever tends to get missed. And you end up being like, okay, what else can they, you know, what else do they want to do? They are not their disability. 

Teresa 
And I think COVID really highlighted particular disability, how we can all work so much differently. So I think being interested in this particular, I might’ve come in just at the right time from a research point of view, because I think it’s going to start changing with regard to COVID. We don’t all have to come into an office work nine to five, you know, go home. Well, I’ll say 9-5, it’s not exactly like, you know, some people work weekends and blah, blah, blah. But it showed that we can work as we want to work. So if that can work for, you know, the able-bodied, the traditional academic, it should work for every other academic.

So that’s the area I’m about to go into that. It’s just  I didn’t get as much finished as I would have hoped. I ended up taking on too much as usual. 

Heidi 
Yep. But it is like, I think one of the conversations, again that was having with somebody last week was around like academic support staff as well. And usually, academic staff tend to have some degree of freedom. So as you said, we work relatively flexibly. Most people I know are not on like a nine to five. You have to be in your chair at nine, and then leaving, you know, you leave at five. It tends to be I’ll start doing some emails and I’ll do something else. And maybe I’ll, you know, finish a bit late or I’ll go for a longer lunch and do other stuff on a weekend. That kind of thing. But the support staff at our institution anyway, have never had that kind of flexibility before and now with COVID, you know, they’re all sent home at once and suddenly they’re like, we’ve never been allowed to work from home. We’ve never been allowed to work flexibly before ever. And suddenly COVID shown that we absolutely can. You know, how is this going to move forward?  I think that’ll be a really interesting point as well. 

Teresa
I actually did academic support work many years ago. I was actually terrible at it. And I really do know the academic support staff don’t get the credit they deserve, they really don’t, and having a ‘class’ lens on, I often think that and not just in academia, but other places as well. It’s almost like, do they think that some people can’t be trusted in a workplace to actually do what they’re supposed to do? And it’s, it’s almost like, you know, academics, traditional middle-class institution, you know, I’m sure there’s many, many people will do an academic job who are also the middle class. But I think in comparison, you might see that academics is more like a middle-class job and I just think there’s this lack of trust when it’s been for the administrators really. I mean, there was no reason why they needed to be in the office unless less, they want to be, unless there’s like, even if it’s a job share where some come in two days a week to see students and share it like that. But I just, I’m hoping that they get some parity now I really am because the academic stuff I’ve got my institution are absolutely fantastic. And I couldn’t do my job without them. 

Heidi 
Totally agree. It’s always like my first bit of advice when we’ve got new PhD students or new students and staff, and they’re like, so what do I need to do? And I’m like, you need to get the administrators onsite because they run all of us. And if, you know, if they go on strike, we’re all absolutely screwed. We don’t even know what rooms we’re allowed into! So you really need to get on with them.

Teresa 
I think the sad part, it’s very important, that the emphasis was on lecturer salaries, and I just thought what about the academic staff as well. What administration, staff salaries, you know, that they were going through the same thing. And I found that a bit sad. And again, to me it just felt all class-based, some of them, I see class everywhere so I would say that. but it just did feel very unfair. This is not a strike about, many years ago now, not a strike just about lecturers salaries, it’s about everybody’s salaries so yeah. 

Heidi 
And often the administrative staff as well, for us anyway, they tend to have been in that post for a really long time. You know, they, they get really good at it and they stay that in that job and they love it and they are really appreciated it by the team around them. And then suddenly like the pensions issue will come up and it’s like, well, come on. Clearly, this has to be part of their issue as well, because they’ve usually been the ones that are running this unit for longer than any of the academics have been in the same room.

Teresa 
I’ve worked as a senior tutor for the last three years and I think most of my emails were to the administration staff saying what do I do here, or sorry to ask you this, you know, they knew so much more than me, so yeah, I wish they got a lot more respects than they do sometimes.

Heidi 
Yeah, definitely. I’m glad that seems to be many of us that are kind of understanding that and at least like, yeah, being more appreciative than hopefully past generations of academics may have been in the same situation. 

Anna 
And fellow students, I’m not a student anymore, but please be nice to the academic support staff.

Heidi 
They have lots to do and they tend to get hundreds of emails every day. And some of them are for some of them will be from students. Some of them they’ll be from confused academics that can’t work certain systems and they just calmly respond to all of us. How do they do it? Because if it was me, I’d be throwing my laptop out of the window or sending passive aggressive emails saying please find the health guide here.

They deal with an awful lot of flustered people. Okay. So if we think about the book and the stem representation that you, that you have in your book, particularly the book kind of focuses on precarity and working-class academic life and how, I guess the academia tends to like, influence who is in it, based on the structures that are already present and stuff. Did you find differences between stem groups or non-stem groups? Like what did you, what were your research findings in that sense?

Teresa 
So when did it, so I’ve interviewed people from 20 different subject areas. And then I would say one-quarter of them were from stem subjects and I was a bit disappointed with that but as a researcher, I’ve got to go with the networks I have, I’m sure on Twitter the networks I have are more primarily from the arts and humanities. But one thing that just struck me was the visibility. I think what’s over and over has been in my head is that because stem as a discipline covers, a wide variety of disciplines it’s perceived and positioned as much more, I think, much more prestigious in comparison to arts or humanities. I often wondered when I was interviewing people, I did ask stem academics, did you feel less comfortable talking about class? And that was something that I got over and over from the stem academics from biology, psychology to engineering, so there wasn’t really a difference here, it was under the umbrella of stem that class didn’t get spoken about as much. So then the way that, you know, we read lots of literature, how it’s difficult to be a working-class academic I felt that that was more from at least people from arts, humanities were able to speak about this. Somebody actually said to me, they didn’t feel comfortable speaking up about class because they may sound like a radical lefty. 

I just thought well why would that matter? You know, you’re in university, universities traditionally would be seen as quite lefty anyway, but the person questions suggested they may not come across as professional, and while it was more acceptable to talk about gender ethnicity it just wasn’t okay to talk about class. So I think that affected some of me being able to recruit.

And I think there are just two reasons. One, because you’re talking about class, you just reminded people of economic differences. You’re reminding people of social differences. And often we don’t like to be reminded of that. So for instance, if I’m speaking to an academic from a very elite institution, I’m sure they think they’ve worked very hard to be there, and no doubt, they have worked very hard, but people don’t like to think about the advantages they may have and the barriers that other people may have. So I think that was one area. And I think as well as that, there just wasn’t the visibility. So it was a catch 22 because there wasn’t class visibility. They didn’t hear or didn’t observe people who actually actively said that they were working class. People didn’t feel comfortable talking about the issue.  And also by talking about you’re referring to yourself as being ‘less than’ middle-class, you know, like most, most institutions that come from what the graduate job, sorry, most graduate jobs are middle-class, that’s the idea behind it. You shouldn’t really be saying that you’re less than. There was a person I spoke to who talked about how he managed to get himself through university. He really struggled to get himself with university and it was a series of luck, that’s a word that you hear over and over in relation to working-class people, but a series of luck had meant he was able to finish his PhD. I think he was a clinical psychologist and he was talking about how, when he went to different visits, he had his car with him and his car was an absolute rust bucket. He said the number of times that colleagues would say, “oh, well who’s car is that out there. We can’t have that car outside. That’s a right, blah, blah, blah.”

Now, this person never really felt comfortable saying it was his and he used to park it further down to avoid colleagues and he said that when he went on visits as well, he would avoid parking his car outside to a patient’s house or anything like that because he just didn’t think he came across as middle class, and the issue about coming across as middle-class or the issue of coming across as professional came up over and over again. It came across with working-class academics from arts and humanities subjects, but I found it’s very different with stem. You needed to come across as professional to look like you could do your job. There’s a lot of freedom from being like a social science academic. You could talk about class. People still would moan and groan, but it was something that you just couldn’t talk about. And you certainly couldn’t come across as if you’ve ever worked with class backgrounds. So that was quite sad.

Heidi 
Yeah, I can totally like, yeah, definitely see that. I remember having a chat with my boss ages ago about a particular academic and how I thought she was really cool and I really liked her and he was like, yeah, she doesn’t call a spade, a space. She calls a spade a shovel. And that was like his, his thing. So that to me was like, she’s working class. She’s got like the dirt under the fingernails thing. She’s approachable. And for him, we were having this conversation as two middle-class people I would say, and that he was like, oh, I really like working with her.

She gets stuff done. She talks to you straight. She’s really easy to work with. And then when you talk to other academics, sometimes it’s like, oh yeah, they’re a bit bolshy or too bold. And you know that it’s not like the thing of having to present as middle-class if even if you’re not, I think the impression I get at least as someone who is obviously working in stem but is interested in like the arts and humanities and potential crossovers and stuff is often, it can be not necessarily like a good thing, but you can use it in your work as if you’re working in arts and humanities. Whereas if you’re in stem, it tends to be you’re either middle-class or you’re, you know, you just don’t talk about it. You just don’t mention it, which is really sad. And it is like, it makes me think, I wonder how many, like, working-class kids, just thought stem isn’t for me. And have gone into some other area because they just haven’t seen, there’s nobody that looks like me and so I can’t be that person.

Teresa
I know that there was a lady I spoke to, she was an academic at the end of a career. And she talked about how she would be part of the job though. She didn’t necessarily have to do this admin job, which was near the end of her career. And maybe it would be seen as too low level for what she had to do. And she used to go into schools to talk to young people about stem subjects because she said, we’re not seeing enough people from my background coming through and it worried her, it really worried her because you need diverse voices. I mean, if it’s all the same, there’s no challenge, you need diverse voices everywhere. I do think it’s easier in social science, I tell my students I’m a working-class academic. I tell them that, not to even just when we talk about class, for instance, I take the class calculator, you know, I ask them what would you think potentially I could be? Most of the time they’ll come up with middle-class. 

and I’ll take the class calculator that was by Friedman Savage, fantastic academics and it’s just interesting to show them. I’m not actually, the way I see myself is working-class I couldn’t imagine some different stem,  and I’m saying stem and obviously, that’s very, very broad, I’ve definitely realized that but some didn’t for instance, psychology someone in, um, maybe not engineering, I think engineering might be an outlier, but just felt that that obviously there’s lots of different disciplines, even with engineering. So I just sent maybe psychology, nursing, nursing was fine, but if he wants to become a doctor, you better hide your accent. You better hide anything about it, you couldn’t have a bad car and there were all these things. So that straightaway is going to seclude people from the social aspects of coming into becoming a doctor, but also from the aspect of actually, money. How can you afford to have a good car when you’re actually going through a degree unless you’re from advantged background already. 

So I think that’s really worrying and I think the problem that we have, and it’s often when people talk about feeling uncomfortable talking about class, because you’re almost saying, by me saying I’m a working-class academic, and somebody is not, I’m always saying that I’ve had it much tougher than you. Now, that’s not what I’m saying. I’ve had a different experience. My respondents had a different experience potentially than somebody more, you know, an elite background, something like that, more middle-class background. And I think we’ve got to recognize all types of backgrounds because it will preclude people from entering sort subjects like stem subjects. 

Heidi
Yeah, that nurse and doctor thing really kind of stuck in my mind just then, because obviously, well, I work in clinical research. So a lot of the stuff that I do is, is around how do we get people involved in research? How do we get doctors and nurses to approach people to say, ‘Hey, do you want to take part in this clinical trial? Here’s some information about it.’ 

 And I think the one thing that definitely sticks out is like, there’s not necessarily a class psychotomy, but even just like being able to see yourself as a patient and whoever you’re speaking to in a medical capacity and, you know, nurses tend to go by first names, whereas doctors, it’s doctor whoever, and even just that really seemingly simple and slight difference is massive and maybe I wouldn’t want a nurse to talk to me about a clinical trial because that seems quite serious, and maybe, I just want to talk about my treatment with her or him. And then with the doctor, maybe I’ll talk about something different, it’s maybe a bit more serious like that. I’m not saying that that’s my perspective, but that is a perspective that is present heavily in the literature, around approaching people about taking part in research and stuff. 

It is really important to have representation across the board because as you’ve said, diverse voices are needed everywhere, and if we don’t have them, we’re not challenged, but also we can’t then fill the next generation of people who are coming up because we don’t have those diverse voices to say, Hey, it’s all good here. It’s safe, you can come because if we don’t have them to begin with, and often it is, I think because it’s not necessarily not safe, but it’s not an area where everyone can thrive and particularly working-class academics. I always have a bit of a soft spot for them because I’m like you’ve been through something different, but often it is something harder as well, based on, you know, what other people may have gone through. 

Teresa 
Oh, that’s like for instance, working class in like say psychology I asked her, what do you feel that you bring to academia by vurtue of your background? and she’d gone with her supervisors, she was working, it was not social work, but it was within that field. So she was working with patients and she said, well, when she visited a house with her two supervisors, the two supervisors have marked a house down as being underfunded and marked down as being deprived. But when the student asks why was this? Well, it was due to how many toys were in the house. 

Heidi 
Now my context on the podcast, mine & Anna’s eyes just popped out! 

Teresa
And the respondents said, well in my house, I didn’t have many toys because we didn’t really have much money. She ended up getting into a big conversation with her two supervisors about what her childhood was like and something as simple as a family could be defined as being deprived. There was nothing to do with the care, nothing. So there was no concerns about the care. It was just generally just to do with how many toys were in the house. There was an absence of toys. I just go, that’s frightening. Frightening. So it just showed us that you do, you know, I’ve often been to things when people say class doesn’t matter, but it does.

Class matters in terms of the things that you learn about, the capital that you have access to, your money. You know, all these things are going to have impact on how you manage to access different careers, different courses and things like that. But that did worry me just hearing that.

I thought that’s not going to be the only time. The difference is this particular respondent actually challenged the supervisors and most wont. 

Anna 
Brave.

Heidi 
Right! I’m also like, it just seems really stupid. Just like, what are you doing? I mean, minimalists people as well, there’s all sorts of different parenting methods.

Anna
Kids don’t need that many toys 

Heidi 
and also like there might be storage where you might not see all of the toys. It just seems so nonsensical that that is an indicator of deprivation. 

Teresa 
You know, the person I spoke to who had ended up hiding their car so people couldn’t see it, because he knew he’d be judged if they realized it was his car.

Heidi 
God, the judgement in these people. 

Teresa 
So to go into certain professions, you better make sure you’ve got a good car, you better make sure that you speak well, not to have a regional accent basically, because you’re going to struggle and you’ve already struggled to get there, but you’re going to struggle, even though that you’re just as qualified, just as academic, as the next person, you’re going to struggle to because of those issues. And that really did concern me that. 

Heidi 
Yeah. I think the car thing is, well, it’s just, it’s like this constant push on possessions and that is the view of success, even though success has literally nothing to do with possessions. It can do if you want it to, but equally it has nothing to do it if you don’t like. And I think our generation as well, we’re so conscious of over-consumption and climate change and consumerism and that kind of thing, that it tends to be a lot of younger people now, anyway, are trying to like cut back on certain things. So maybe we’ll shop second hand and it might not be a financial issue. It’s more of a climate conscious issue. So yeah, just that whole thing blows my tiny mind. 

Teresa 
Even though that is a narrative that’s happening at the moment, it takes awhile for people’s opinions to change. I definitely noticed that when we spoke to the academics, to do with like medicine, there’s definitely, it’s much more hierarchical, but I thought academia was hierarchical until I actually got in it, and I realised it’s not as hierarchical as it appears in comparison to medicine, and one of the respondents talked about how his daughter and I think the respondent’s PhD student, and he was talking about how his daughter has spoken to some careers evening about wanting to become a doctor, and she was like pushed gently into becoming a nurse. Nothing wrong with being a nurse at all, of course, but there was a class and gender issue to this. You know, that perhaps that this person might want to consider in a nurse and I think that’s patronized on the nursing profession and it’s obviously discriminatory as well. 

Heidi 
Yeah, it’s just two different things isn’t it like, and if you want to work in medicine, of course you can, you can do either. And many other things, you know, different professions and stuff that are there in medicine. But if you say you want to be a doctor, it’s like saying, oh, well go and be an engineer – it’s just a different thing. Like being a nurse is not the same. It’s different. It’s a different thing. It’s very strange.

Anna 
Yeah, but even circling back to the possessions thing, you know, nowadays you, it doesn’t have to be secondhand, but there are certain brands out there that if you have them, they might be, you know, eco-conscious, you know, like the Patagonia fleeces, the field lab and backpacks and everything, they cost quite a bit. But you know, you wear them and you’re like, eco-conscious, you’re cool. 

Heidi 
Yeah definitely, it’s like a status thing, isn’t it? It’s just not accessible and often there’s like this weird stigma as to yes, it’s okay to shop secondhand if it’s going to be for a climate reason, but maybe it’s not okay to do it if it’s for a financial reason, 

Teresa
So that is class-based as well, and it’s just complete snobbery as well, and I think that things like this, just to me, when I was interviewing the noticeable difference is there seems to be more of a shame about class from stem respondents, as opposed to the arts humanities. And I think it’s just arts humanities, in general, are able to get out views about classes, not great, but it’s obviously much better than in terms of stem. There’s definitely much more of a shame regarding the class status and then a shame about feeling ashamed of their class status. And I just thought that’s a lot of internalizing, you know, that the having to cope with as well as potentially, you know, being in precarious employment, you know, waiting to go to the next level of their employment. 

Anna 
Unpaid internships

Heidi 
Yeah, yeah

Teresa 
Yeah, that was just impossible the unpaid internships, you know, the people that do them had managed to, again, the word luck kept on being mentioned that they had some money from somewhere. So they were able to, you know, but most people weren’t able to. So for instance, in my institution, we do internships and one of the things I really would like to ensure is that they become paid internships. So they have to have paid internships, but we also have volunteering, and I would actually just like it to be paid internships because I think that it’s the paid internships are going to be very, you know, very, very difficult to get hold of. Whereas most people will be able to volunteer, but when it comes to, you know, if you’ve got less money, you’re not gonna be able to spend that time volunteering and that we really do need to think about. 

Heidi 
It’s often as well, like with stem degrees. So I remember like in the first year when I got my timetable, for example, I had so much contact time that it was, it was almost shocking. I was like, wait, I thought was a Fresher. Like you want to just be able to go out and have parties and like make friends and stuff. Well, how am I in uni all this time? And some of it was like practicals and like chemistry labs and stuff between 3 pm – 6 pm, like once a week and that was totally normal, and then the arts and humanities friends that I had, had much less contact time, but they were then having to use it to go out and work if they were working class because obviously, they didn’t have the money to then support themselves and so you then ended up with this weird kind of, if you’re a stem working-class person, how do you survive monetarily? Because you’ve got so much contact time. You don’t really have the time to be doing that. But also if you’re in arts and humanities and you don’t have as much contact time and, you know, within your degree, how do you then succeed within your degree? Because you’re, you know, using so much time to work. So is it just ends up with this horrible balancing act to try and keep enough money to keep you afloat and when you bring in these like paid or unpaid internships, I think unpaid internships should just be illegal, to be honest. They’re just exploitative. But again, you, you end up with, even the people that have the time, it ends up being a sort of skew to doesn’t mean a potentially slightly more middle class, unless it’s in the summer or, you know when all students have a break, rather than when some students have a break, depending on how many jobs people have and stuff like that. 

Teresa 
I think with internships what worries me about that, in particular, is that this is a research project I want to do, but I just don’t know how to do it yet. I want to look at employers. So I’ve looked at so far, I’ve looked at graduates, I’ve looked to the academic side, and the employers are the next lot I would like to look at and see that when they hire people, well, why do they take certain people on and not others? And so one of the things I’ve always included when I used to run the work placement modules was practice interviews. I used to teach them what to do when it came to assessment centres because these are sorts of things that if you don’t know what to do, you’re not going to come across as well, as somebody who has that experience. And it does worry, you know, even like for instance, my daughters obviously can do much better in comparison to people who haven’t got any, any links to a university. So that’s just something that really does anger me. So that’s an area that I do want to look at. Why do employers take certain people and not others? And I just think again, it’s class-based. Then again, I look at everything through the lens of class-based so I would say that. 

Heidi 
It’s important though, yes, you look through that lens, but it’s often because that lens is there for you to say see

Teresa
Yeah, I want to see the positives. I mean, I’m generally a positive person. So if I can see that things have changed and have advanced, I would point out, but to me, I think it’s just that, you know, when we think about the graduate, we think about a young mobile person, generally male, who can, you know, travel where they need to, for a job. We don’t think about a graduate who may, you know, be female may have other care responsibilities may not be able to afford to travel to different places for jobs. So there’s a lot of, this is why I was looking at it through class. I’ve got no choice until it changes! 

Heidi 
Yeah, exactly. We were just patiently waiting and shouting whilst we do. Yeah. I think as well, it’s kind of when you then become, or if you, if you become a working-class academic, then for me anyway, they tend to be the people that are doing the most outreach and the most mentoring of students, you know, local schools and that kind of thing, because they’ve been in that position where they haven’t, maybe they view it as luck as to why they’ve got where they are. And they’re trying to give back a little bit to the community around them, but also then you end up with most academics, with skewed workloads that are much higher than potentially the middle-class counterparts, because they’re doing all of this additional outreach and, you know, mentoring and stuff and it frustrates me. 

Teresa
I always feel bad with that one because I’m going to say that is something I do. But then I feel bad on my colleagues who feel like they do a lot as well, but I just know that some people would potentially come to me due to the idea of me being “normal”. So it’s not, I think it’s, again, you have to, when you say it’s people, you have to say, look, I’m not saying you don’t do work when you do not mentor people, help people, but I’m saying that perhaps potentially people may feel more comfortable. So for instance, in my workplace academics, I think all of them talked about doing some mentoring in some way, the academic had spoke to before the end of her career has done very, very well, but she still feels the need to give something back because she’s concerned about the state of her discipline if it does not include voices from outside the middle classes. That’s work that really, I don’t think many people of her stature would do, but it’s fantastic that she’s doing it, but again, that’s potentially she could be doing something else. You know, she needs support it can’t just be one person doing that. 

Heidi 
So I’m gonna play one of your devil’s advocate characters here and just for full clarity, I do not believe what I’m about to say. Just so we’re all clear. 

Teresa 
You’ve got to do a character!

Heidi
So I’m a big, white conservative man, and in recent years there’s been a bigger push or it might seem like there’s been a bigger push for diversity in various parts of the world, whether it’s in the workplace, whether it’s in academia, whatever, how do you respond to someone that would potentially say, you know, that person’s only got where they are because of that class or because of their status? They’re filling a tick box. Again, just for clarity, I don’t believe that. 

Teresa 
Well, you could argue that the people that are already there are just feeling some kind of quota because they’ve got there just based on their own, their characteristics. So for a long time, we had people that were, were getting jobs just because they were male. And then we started to see differences where there’s, you know, a greater variety in terms of gender. I’m seeing more females getting jobs, but we’ve had that for a long time, but one type of person has only got the job now in terms of have they got the job in terms of a tick box, it’s like there are different TV programs I watch, for instance, the SAS program, they have just been, supposedly they’re no longer working for Channel 4, and it’s due to diversity. I also find it strange when people have a problem with that, like don’t you want to be against the best. So for instance, all that’s happened when it comes to diversity is the same two different people come after a job with the same characteristics. It’s not that you’re giving one person a job just because they look a certain type or, you know, have like a Northern accent or accent like myself. So I think it’s really unfair when people say that. I think these people who’ve got the job who are supposedly a diversity tick box, would have gotten that job if things were fairer and I think if I was to go after jobs, I’d want to go against the whole of the field. I don’t just want to go against, you know, a little section and everyone else has been pushed out of that field. You should feel confident in your own abilities, but as I said, we have a diversity tick box already, and if you take the house of commons, there is a diversity tick box, so why not open it and have different people for a change? 

Heidi 
So, I was talking to, again, my boss today we’re were talking about how in clinical trials, some people have this idea where it would be difficult to over-sample based on ethnicity or gender, or, you know, any other characteristic because it would be difficult for somebody else to take those results and to believe them. And then we were this conversation being like, but we’ve constantly, oversampled white men for the past for however many hundred years. So, you know, and we expect brown women to take those results and believe them just as much as any white man would. So what’s the issue? and it is like, there’s a book called Mediocre – I can’t remember the author of it, but it’s basically about mediocre white men, which sounds great. I’ll put it in the show notes when I find out who the author is, but it is it’s about like, we’ve let mediocre white men of a middle-class status rule the world for so long that maybe it’s time for the best to come to the top rather than it not being mediocre white men. 

Teresa
Yeah, and it’s funny because I always find it strange that when there’s a complaint by the injured party and it’s generally you know, a white elite man that you know, that they are being overtaken, you know, that their jobs being taken by such and such, I say, well, where were you complaining when it was the opposite? You didn’t care then, I just find it strange when you hear complaints about diversity, but it’s like, but that was okay when it suited you, but it’s not okay now that perhaps, you know, the field, you know, we want a wider field. I do, I find it quite funny, for instance, if I get a job, I would like to think I was against the best. There was a while ago, I was actually interested in a research study, and I remember feeling that it wasn’t suitable for me because of my ethnicity, I just knew that I couldn’t bring the same, I didn’t have the same contacts in a particular area I was working and I just thought I shouldn’t go for that job, I should step aside. Is there anything wrong with that? You know, having epilepsy, I’m sure I’d bring lived experience if I did research on that, so I would have, I think something different that I’d bring something different to the research. So yeah. I just think the with diversity one, it’s easy, ​​it’s lazy and they don’t care when they benefit. That’s my argument. 

Heidi 
Perfectly put. And I agree with what you just said rather than what I said before it. 

Teresa
I liked your character though 

Heidi 
It’s almost like I’ve encountered many, many mediocre white men. Nailed that. Method acting. 

I think my hope for stem going forward is that social media and things are opening those things up. So we have Instagram and people doing science communication stuff online, and they tend to be not from these elite groups, you know, that their family might not have been Doctors for example, so kind of navigating the system for the first time themselves, and maybe they’re going to be able to impart some of that wisdom on their followers and the, you know, the people that they have viewed the Instagram profiles of Twitter or whatever, so I would love to see a change in the next couple of years based on that, because I think there’s so much work going on usually by women, I will say, but online to be like, look, we are here! We like things that are not just science, like, you know, some like makeup, some of us are really into fashion, like all these different things that make us human, rather than it just being like, I am going to sit at this desk or in this lab for the rest of time, this is what I’m dedicated to because it’s often not the case, but I think even just being visible will hopefully make younger generations be like, oh, maybe I can, maybe I could go into a place like that. 

Teresa 
Oh definitely. Visibility is so, I mean, just if you take TV, for example, just hearing different stories. It’s, you know like we’ve all watched the Rom-coms where it’s the same sort of people, I want to see stories on different people. I want to see something different for a change and we are starting to see that more and more, and it does make those stories interesting. But you know, as in just learning more about different types of people, not the same, you know, white man, and a white woman you know, that’s what a Rom-com tends to be and I’m just so bored of it 

Heidi
Can we stop casting Hugh Grant and I mean, great guy, but Jesus we’ve seen him enough! 

Teresa 
He must be 105 now as well.

Heidi
He’s aged well, he has. So I think what we usually do at the end of our podcast is to ask for a top tip or a Pearl of wisdom that you would like to give our listeners or something that either you wish you’d learned sooner, or, you know, someone’s maybe given you a Pearl of wisdom and you know, you’ve really taken it to heart. Is there anything that you can basically educate us on? This is your time. 

Teresa 
Ok, so I always think aim high. So this is a boring one, but it’s something that I’ve always tried to do. I just say aim for whatever I’m doing aim high, whatever you want to get, because the worst that can happen is you might not get it. So it might not be the biggest pile of wisdom. But I just think that when I work with students, I always just say, aim high, go for the best job, you know, whatever you want to do, do that. Yes, there will be barriers, but you can be the one that changes that. And if it’s the worst that can happen is you don’t, you know, you don’t get what you want. There are so many barriers for us out there and I just think we’ve got to push, push and push against those barriers, you know, just be the person we want to be rather than what society tells us, we should be. So that’s quite a long-winded one, but it’s a magic one.

Heidi 
I think there’s so many, often as women, we need to hear that more often than other people or, you know, even marginalized genders need to hear that. Just thinking there’s research that shows that like, you know, a man looks through a job description and they might only meet 60% of the criteria and then they’ll still apply for it. Whereas a woman will meet 80% and go, ah, don’t fit the description. So I won’t even bother applying. So it is, it’s something to something to think about and to constantly try and do. And again, the conversation I was having the other day at the end of it was like, I’m just going to try and fail more. I just need to try and like, make it a goal to screw up more because if I do that, then at least there’s a positive to what I failed to do and that I’ve tried. Like, it’s, it’s a good thing either way. I mean, they call it a point on my failure thing or I’ve got the thing I actually wanted to do. It seems ridiculous, but it’s like getting out of the little safety net.

Teresa 
Yeah, that’s fine. I just think it’s just when you know, people don’t go for things. I just think if you if you really want, definitely go for it because even if you don’t get, I do believe there’s some kind of, you get what you supposed to have. And I think along the line, you know if you keep trying things, you will get something from, it might not be what you originally wanted, but I just think, you know, just don’t let the bastards get you down.

Anna 
That’s it. 

Heidi 
It’s, it’s important as well. And it’s, you know, yes, you might not get the thing that you applied for, but they might look at you and be like, oh, actually they’d be perfect for this. And it might be one rung down or one rung to the side or something, but you have to try and, you know, make yourself visible, Make it so that you’re there otherwise no one’s going to see you. 

So at the end of each episode, we give you a chance to plug whatever you would like to plug. So obviously the book we’ve been talking about it throughout the whole episode, we will link the book and the show notes, and also as a sneaky side note that I didn’t know, Anna flagged this to me.

Anna 
What have I done? 

Heidi 
If you are affiliated with an academic institution, if you go into the Springer website, you can actually download the PDF of the book for free. If your institution is linked to, or has a subscription, I guess, to Springer or is that right?

Teresa 
That’s another thing about class, if you’re a PhD student, I just want to say contact me. That’s all I’ll say. So I wanted to make sure that the book could be accessed by as many people as possible. That was the goal behind once I realized I was writing the book, I didn’t realize it at first, but basically, I wanted to make sure as many people read it as possible. It’s not fair what some working-class academics experience, you bring a lot of capital and assets into academia so just remember that. 

Heidi 
It’s a really, and obviously, I’m going to say this, but it’s a really accessibly written book, iit’s not an academic text. It’s a book that you can read. You’re not going to have to sit there and highlight it and tab it, you can just read it like a normal book. 

Teresa 
Yes. I know some academics wouldn’t like to write, but I just thought, well, what’s the point of me writing a book about working-class academics, being normal, being approachable, and then my book not being approachable.

Heidi 
I ordered it from bookshop.org, which I can leave a link to if you want, if people want me to, in the show notes, it basically means that the profits, it’s not, it’s not like an Amazon essentially. If anyone is struggling to get the book and wants it again, contact one of us, I’m happy for Little Science Co to sub some of them too. It’s not a big beefy book either. I think the PDF, yeah. The PDF in front of me is 153 pages

Anna 
Very nice illustrations as well

Teresa 
So the illustrations, I’ve got to give a shout out to Kate Crothers Thomas, and I saw her illustrations on Facebook. I thought, oh gosh, I just knew they would fit the book. I knew I wanted them black and white, I just saw her work wanted her to do them. 

Heidi 
Is there anything else? Do you want to link your Twitter?

Teresa 
Yes so it’s Dr. Teresa Crew and I really did wonder if I should put Dr in the title, but I thought, you know, sometimes female academics don’t do that, so I’m going to do it. So, so yes.  

Anna 
You earned it! 

Heidi 
So we’ll put all those links in the show notes, and I think that is it from us. 

Thank you so much, Teresa, for listening to us waffle on and helping us understand what it’s like and yeah writing a bloody brilliant book at the same time. 

Teresa
Thanks so much. I really do appreciate it and, but it’s a fantastic show as well. So thank you. 

Heidi
Thank you so much. You can come again. We like you!