By Catarina Dutilh Novaes
I’ve just been promoted to (junior)* full professor in Groningen, and while I’m still duly enjoying the accompanying feeling of achievement and recognition, it got me thinking about how I got here. It does not take much to conclude that, while I've worked incredibly hard for this, I was also *extremely* lucky. I know countless people who work just as hard as I do (or more), and who are as good as I am at what they do (or better), and yet do not get similar professional recognition. It takes an incredible amount of luck and, yes, privilege, for things to work out. So let me comment on two kinds of luck that may play a role in one’s professional development.
The first kind is simply the luck to have been dealt rather generous cards in life. While I am a woman in a male-dominated field, and while I had to overcome hurdles related to coming from the ‘periphery’ of academic action (originally from Brazil, and then developing my career in the Netherlands, which is ok but frankly not Top of the Pops), for the rest I’ve been extremely privileged. My parents were both academics (my mother still is), so in terms of academic support at home I was particularly well served. For a number of reasons, I also never had to worry about economical hardship and financial stability, and thus I could choose the risk of an academic career without having to worry whether one day I’d have no food on my plate. And, last but not least, I am white, not differently abled, cis, and I fit reasonably well within certain stereotypical standards of beauty.
Let me refer to this kind of luck as privilege-luck, and it is still a matter of luck because I might just as well have been born in different circumstances, and things might have been very different. One way in which privilege-luck manifests itself very conspicuously is with the so-called ‘pedigree’ phenomenon; depending on where you go to school (both undergraduate and graduate), your career will develop in very different ways. But we all know very well that the school you end up going to is almost entirely determined by the kind of socio-economical background you can fall back on.