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AHRC Doctoral Student scoops prestigious Sarton Prize for History of Science

As part of the AHRC’s ‘Doctoral Week’ we meet Jenny Bulstrode an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral student who has been awarded the 2018 Sarton Prize for History of Science by the American Academy of Art.

Jenny Bulstrode making glass springs
Jenny Bulstrode making glass springs at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, an opportunity made possible through AHRC CDA with Greenwich National Maritime Museum.

Presented for the first time in 1999, the Sarton Prize recognises early-career historians of science of exceptional promise and distinguished achievement. The prize was recognition of her achievement and promise as an emerging scholar in the field.

Jenny Bulstrode is a doctoral student and researcher at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge (HPS) and National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. She was awarded the Singer Prize for her work on the relationship between archaeology, manufacture, and the industrial society of mid-Victorian Britain, which was published by The British Journal for the History of Science.

Here she tells us what the prize means to her - and what she is planning to do next.

1. How did you feel when you found out you were to be awarded this prize? What does winning mean to you?

I thought it was probably a mistake or otherwise an impeccably written phishing scam. After years of fighting for small grants and relentless applications ending in ‘with regret…’, it was very hard to believe. The prize means that in an extremely hostile field for early career researchers I have the extraordinary privilege of being able to keep doing the research I’m passionate about. It also means quite simply the amazing feeling that someone somewhere read my work and saw interest and potential.

2. What effect will the prize have on you and your research? Will it help you move forward in any new ways?

The prize has already enabled me to develop my own independent avenues of research, a huge luxury for any researcher but in particular at the early career stage.

3. What do you think the judges saw in your work that impressed them? What are you doing that is different or innovative?

My research has looked to develop novel interdisciplinary approaches, in particular between material science, practical experiment, and in depth archival research. The institutional access necessary for the development of those interdisciplinary methods was very much facilitated by my position as an AHRC CDA student and by the research support awarded by learned societies, but it absolutely depended upon the amazing expertise and generosity of the individuals within those institutions. What the judges saw was a reflection of that extraordinary support and collaboration which made innovative research agendas and publications possible.

4. How have you got to this point? Can you let us know a bit more about your career leading up the award?

I had to take three years out of my undergraduate degree on serious health grounds. I did various jobs, mainly in care work and the service industry. When I returned to study I was managing multiple disabilities including seizures caused by my medication. I would not have won funding for a PhD anywhere, let alone an AHRC studentship, if it had not been for the backing of my CDA supervisors and their willingness to look past conventional expectations. Through the course of my doctorate they supported me in applying for additional funding for special projects that pushed the scope of my research and generated exciting new opportunities and collaborations. Between them they provided the most extraordinary education.

5. Do you have any advice for other scholars in the arts and humanities? Can you share any advice? Do you have any tips based on how you have approached your research?

The PhD students and early career researchers I know across departments and institutions work exceptionally hard, each using their own individual approach. What they produce is innovative not least because they put so much of themselves, their individual experience and perspective into the work. Its innovation comes from its diversity. I also know that more often than not these students and ECRs are doing this work under very challenging circumstances, personal and professional, in which stellar researchers go unfunded. My recommendation would be they join UCU. Membership is free for up to four years while you complete your studies. If they are employed doing any work providing or supporting education, training, or research they should register under the free ‘standard full membership’ to make sure they can vote to change the conditions under which they work and help shape a better landscape for the arts and humanities.

I am so grateful for the generosity of the award-giving bodies without which support my PhD work would not have been possible. With that gratitude in mind I would ask the senior researchers who sit on those bodies to consider challenging the narrow REF model of grants/publications/prizes on which funding, fellowships, and jobs are often awarded. If innovation comes from its diversity such a challenge is essential to promote innovation in the arts and humanities.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank all the people who have written references for me, without complaint, over and over again. I cannot thank them enough for their tolerance and generosity.

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