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Applications are now open for PhD studentships starting in October 2018. 

Please read the recruitment introduction for more information about eligibility, how to apply, and possibilities for further funding.

The deadline for applications is 8 January 2018.

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PITOIS_UCEFAS18EE - Strategic development of the innovative in-line plankton image analysis (PIA) system to fit policy and ecosystem modelling data needs (CASE studentship with Cefas)

Project description

Selected other project supervisors:

Dr Gill Malin (UEA)
Dr Jeroen van der Kooij (Cefas)
Dr Phil Culverhouse (University of Plymouth)

Figure. PIA Images captured from the Celtic Sea, October 2016

Scientific Background
Zooplankton are critical in the good functioning of marine food webs and sensitive to environmental changes, but knowledge of their biomass, size composition and production rates remains fragmented. Essentially this marine ecosystem compartment remains poorly assessed because of the high cost of traditional monitoring approaches of net deployment, preservation and microscopy.  In the context of limited resources, cost-efficient methods to increase the spatio-temporal sampling scale and integrate plankton monitoring into multipurpose surveys are urgently needed

The Plankton Image Analyser (PIA) is a new high-speed, colour line scan-based, automated imaging instrument under development in the Culverhouse group, Plymouth University. The results of recent sea trials on the RV Cefas Endeavour demonstrate the PIA’s great potential as part of the integrated monitoring program currently being developed at Cefas with the aim of informing future fisheries and environmental policy.

Working at the Science/Policy interface, the PhD student will advance the development of the PIA to answer the fisheries and environmental policy needs. Specifically, the student will:

  1. Collect plankton data with PIA during surveys on-board RV Cefas Endeavour.
  2. Actively and strategically develop PIA to fit policy and ecosystem modelling data needs.
  3. Use data from PIA and other plankton monitoring programs (e.g. CPR) to build a plankton observatory that by integrates long-term and large-scale data and small-scale high resolution data.
  4. Use Cefas survey data and statistical modelling techniques to link zooplankton data with data for lower (primary producers) and upper trophic levels.

Based at Cefas, the student will receive training on the PIA instrument, seagoing, plankton sampling, taxonomy, statistical and ecosystem modelling. The supervisory team are experts in zooplankton ecology, biological oceanography and computer vision & robotics, and there will be opportunities for interacting with policy makers.  He/she will develop a range of transferable skills, critical thinking, and the ability to analyse complex information.

Please also view the introductory video for this project

Candidate profile

This PhD would suit students with a degree in Marine, Environmental, Ecosystem Sciences or numerate discipline and with keen interests in the marine environment and instrumentation. Self-motivated, enthusiastic candidates with experience of computer-based analysis, programming and interest in policy-relevant research are ideal.

The successful candidate will be registered for a PhD in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia.

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with over twenty other research partners. Undertaking a PhD with the EnvEast DTP will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed by EnvEast on 12/13 February 2018.

Selected candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - in 2017/18, the stipend is £14,553. Ordinarily, EnvEast studentships are for 3.5 years, although longer awards may be made to applicants from quantitative disciplines who have limited experience in the environmental sciences, to allow them to take appropriate advanced-level courses in the subject area.

In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a stipend. For non-UK EU-resident applicants NERC funding can be used to cover tuition fees, RTSG and training costs, but not any part of the stipend. Individual institutes may, however, elect to provide a stipend from their own resources.

This PhD studentship is expected to begin in September/October 2018. Both full-time and part-time study are possible (those planning to study part-time may wish to discuss this with the supervisor before applying).


  1. Culverhouse PF, Gallienne C, Tilbury J and Williams R. 2015 An Instrument for Rapid Mesozooplankton Monitoring at Ocean Basin Scale. J Marine Biol Aquacult 1(1): 1-11.
  2. Bean T. … Pitois S. et al. 2017 A Review of the Tools Used for Marine Monitoring: Combining Historic and Contemporary Methods with Modelling and Socioeconomics to Fulfil Legislative Needs and Scientific Ambitions. Frontiers Mar Sci. doi:10.3389/fmars.2017.00263.
  3. Pitois, S.G, Tilbury, J., Bouch, P. Hayden, C., Barnett, S., Culverhouse P. 2017. Ring nets, underway sampling and analysis: a study of mesozooplankton distributions in the Celtic Sea. Accepted pending revisions (Plos One) – Available on request from
  4. Bell, T.G., poulton, A.J., Malin, G. 2010. Strong linkages between dimethylsulphoniopropionate (DMSP) and phytoplankton community physiology in a large sub-tropical  and tropical Atlantic Ocean dataset. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 24, GB3009, doi:10.1029/2009GB003617.
  5. MacLeod N, Benfield M & Culverhouse P (2010) Time to Automate Identification. Nature 467 pp. 155-156 9 September 2010