Visitors are welcomed to Cambridge's Zoology Museum beneath its fin whale skeleton

Credit: University of Cambridge / Julieta Sarmiento

University collections and regional partners secure major AHRC funding to boost PhD research with strong community focus

The University of Cambridge collections, together with Colchester + Ipswich Museums, Norfolk Museums Service and Peterborough Museum & Art Gallery, will join

Cambridge University News • cambridge
May 18, 2023 4 minSource

Fifteen fully-funded PhD studentships based in these collections, and with a strong community focus, will be offered, with the first five studentships beginning in October 2024.

The Collections and Communities in the East of England CDP consortium, the region’s first, will equip future research leaders with the skills and experience for careers in the creative and cultural sectors, supporting a pipeline of staff into the museum and cultural sector.

The Consortium holds extraordinary collections of over 20 million items, spanning the globe and hundreds of millions of years, including art and archaeology, anthropology, social history, natural history, books, archives, photography, born digital material, buildings and living plants.

In line with the priorities of the new University of Cambridge Strategic Research Initiative Collections-Connections-Communities, the PhD students will undertake research around today’s societal challenges, with a focus on health and wellbeing, environment and sustainability, and identity. 

Each student will benefit from a cross-consortium training programme, providing experience in both University and local authority museums, as well as professional internships in organisations including BT.  Consortium members will also ensure that students are equipped to undertake interdisciplinary research using participatory methodologies, where local communities play critical roles as co-researchers.  

This CDP will create an inspiring, diverse, transdisciplinary, inclusive and supportive environment for doctoral students that will shape the provision of doctoral training for the twenty-first century.  

Dr Neal Spencer, Principal Investigator of this award and the Fitzwilliam Museum's Deputy Director (Collections & Research) said: “Collections are ever more prominent in the debates around our history, present and future. We’re thrilled to be able to offer the next generation of researchers the opportunity to use these incredible collections to ask questions that will help shape our collective future.

“These PhD projects will engage our communities and employ a truly interdisciplinary approach. We look forward to welcoming the first students next year, who will benefit from the rich diversity of collections, institutions, expertise and training support provided by this partnership.”

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) offers up to 50 collaborative research studentships per annum to galleries, libraries, museums and archives, the creative industries, and public and third sector organisations. This new consortium will collaborate with CDP organisations across the UK.

Frank Hargrave, Colchester + Ipswich Museums manager, said: “Collections & Communities in the East of England offers the unrivalled opportunity to look at our collections differently, researching themes that are of particular relevance to our changing communities. To work with world-renowned academics on this research is an unrivalled opportunity and Colchester + Ipswich Museums are delighted with the funding announcement.”

Sarah Wilson, Heritage Manager at Peterborough Museum & Art Gallery, said: “Peterborough Museum and Art Gallery is delighted to be involved. The museum collections are hidden gems, a treasure trove for researchers that span 150 million years, cover a diverse range of subjects and offer endless opportunities for learning.”

Steve Miller, Director of Culture & Heritage, Norfolk County Council,  said: “Norfolk Museums Service is delighted to be a partner in the Collections & Communities in the East of England consortium. The initiative supports our commitment to building the skills and experience of a diverse workforce in the museums and cultural sector and we look forward to supporting the researchers to work with our local communities to gain important new insights into our collections.”

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