Reflections of a Collaborative Doctoral Award student

Over the last few years The National Archives has been highly successful in expanding its partnerships with universities by co-sponsoring a number of collaborative doctoral award students. We currently have four students working with us and two more that will be starting their study next term. Their research covers the disciplines of history, technology and archives and information studies.

Recently the first of our collaborative doctoral students, Jenny Bunn, was awarded her PhD.

Jenny tells us more about her experience…

‘I have been asked to record my experiences of being the first National Archives collaborative doctoral award (CDA) holder. The CDA scheme, run by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds PhD students to undertake their study in collaboration with a non-academic partner, in this case The National Archives. Initially it is this partner, along with the academic partner (in this case University College London) who draws up a research proposal which is put to AHRC. If successful, they will then jointly advertise for someone to take up the opportunity to put the proposal into practice.

As the studentship is funded, it can seem, to the potential students, a bit like applying for a job, one on a fixed term contract of three to four years, at the end of which you will (hopefully) come out with an additional qualification. That, at least, is what I told myself when I applied back in 2007 to undertake a project entitled ‘Multiple Narratives, Multiple Views: Exploring the Shift from Paper to Digital Archival Description’. For, by doing so, I made the fact that I was basically throwing caution to the wind to embark on a journey into the unknown a little less scary. Of course, it was not the complete unknown as I had spent the best part of my career to date involved with archival description on some level and it was this interest more than anything else that allowed me to see a bridge between working as an archivist at The National Archives and doing a PhD, something I had never even considered before.

Amazingly I was appointed as the CDA student and even more amazingly I have now completed my thesis and have a certificate that says I am a Doctor of Philosophy. It has not been an easy process, particularly in the later stages, when the first thing my children would ask when I took a brief break from working to put them to bed was ‘how many words did you write today Mummy?’ and I would always answer ‘not enough’. Nevertheless it has also been enjoyable and rewarding and I feel a certain pride that I have managed to learn a new language of methodology, epistemology and radical constructivism. This language, the language of academic practice, is as specialised and inward looking as the language of archival practice; records continuum, fonds, provenance etc. For me though, one major point of contact is research, the desire to make sense of what is going on and work out solutions and theories to solve and frame the problems we face. The great strength of the CDA scheme is that it makes this point of contact, which I think can only bring benefits now and in the future’.


  1. Ann Fenech says:

    As a former TNA/UCL CDA student I cannot but agree with Jenny as to how rewarding the experience was, particularly finding problems, trying to understand them, and exploring solutions. Seeing how they could be used in practice by working with TNA made the experience that much better.

    Good luck to the current and future TNA CDA students!

  2. Ruth Roberts says:

    Ann – great to hear from you!

    And congratulations on getting your PhD!

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