Last week I finished writing up my research proposal for my Doctorate application. This is a big milestone for me as it represents something that that I once would not have a imagined I could achieve.
I left school after my O' levels to go on a Youth Training Scheme (YTS) scheme in a care home. But this wasn't the career I wanted as a child; I'd always wanted to be an English teacher. But such a job was completely out of reach for someone from a rough council estate in Luton. Whilst I wanted to be a teacher it was something I knew was out of my league, it was an impossible dream. I didn't know anyone who worked in a professional job; my father worked in a dairy factory, my mother was a canteen cook, and all my family worked in either factories, shops or child care. I didn't know anyone with a degree and my friends and boyfriend went on to do apprenticeships, even the ones with A' levels. Besides, my parents wanted me to get a job and pay rent so it was the YTS scheme for me. I lacked the social and cultural capital (key concepts in KE322) to make my dream come true.
So how did I get here, a middle class academic working in Cambridge? Well, even on the YTS I was discerning on what I wanted to do and requested elderly care not child care as I felt that would offer more opportunities. And it was in a small private residential home that I was empowered to change my life. The home was owned by a lovely pair of best friends, a nurse and a home economist who had previous taught teenage mums, who saw in me a potential for reaching higher. Their support and influence provided the social and cultural capital to successfully apply for nurse training in my local hospital. My nursing qualifications then enabled me to move to London, opening myself up to new world views. In the language of Goodhart (2017), also from KE322, I moved from being a 'Somewhere' to an 'Anywhere' person. Moving to London offered me a wider scope for developing as a professional but also introduced me to a wider range of people from different classes, especially when I started attending a large city church. Meanwhile I started an Open University module on research methodology, which then led to a degree. Having friends with Doctorates normalised academia in my life (back to social and cultural capital again) and I knew I wanted to teach nursing (my bipolar mania also contributed to my professional progress but that is a different story). I now teach health and social care undergraduates, live in in a city which has twice the number of graduates than the national average and my son attends the top state sixth form college in the country. How life has changed.
I now straddle two universes; the middle class world where I live and the working class world where I came from. When I did my Masters in Education I found the alien language frustrating and wrote on a bit of paper by my computer 'Academic language exists to disempower the working classes'. It has got easier over the years to bridge the cognitive divide but I still have a deep empathy for students who enter this new world with its of unfamiliar language and rules. My research will look at one of the groups who have more hurdles to overcome than most, those with mental health challenges, and I am excited for the opportunities this research might bring for empowering this group of students, just as I was empowered as a young girl to reach outside my socio-cultural boundaries.