Fully funded PhD Studentship – Marine Litter

Marine litter: Can behavioural sciences help reduce land-based waste entering the oceans?

Director of studies: Professor Richard Thompson (R.C.Thompson@plymouth.ac.uk)

2nd supervisor: Dr Sabine Pahl (Sabine.Pahl@plymouth.ac.uk)

Applications are invited for a three-year PhD studentship. The studentship will start on October 2017.

Project description

Litter in the marine and coastal environment has emerged as a growing concern on a global scale. For example, in 2015, the Leaders’ declaration at the G-7 acknowledged that ‘marine litter, in particular plastic litter, poses a global challenge, directly affecting marine and coastal life and ecosystems and potentially also human health.’

Considerable work is being undertaken to understand the quantities and impacts of litter at sea. This PhD project will take a more holistic solutions focused approach going ‘upstream’ to better understand the social and systemic factors that cause litter to accumulate in the environment. These factors may include perceptions and motivations as well as consumption and waste management behaviours. Building on this understanding, the studentship will then test communications and interventions that address these pathways so as to reduce the quantity of litter entering the environment.

The PhD will draw on theories of risk perception and behaviour change, integrating social and cognitive psychology approaches with a strong interdisciplinary perspective, and explore novel ways of communicating, potentially using social media and apps. You will be working with Professor Richard Thompson (marine biology) and Dr Sabine Pahl (psychology). You will be part of the International Marine Litter Unit and the Psychology and Sustainability Group.

Plymouth University has a strategic focus on marine and sustainability research, with strong links to government, environmental organisations and industry. The University has a world leading reputation for its work on marine litter. Professor Thomson and Dr Pahl have a strong history of interdisciplinary collaborative research on marine litter funded by ESRC/NERC, Defra and EU.

We are looking for a highly motivated, hard working person who is both collaborative and open-minded in their approach. The candidate should have good quantitative skills and knowledge of relevant social and cognitive research and a range of research methods as well as a broad understanding of the underlying causes and environmental consequences of marine litter. The position would suit a psychology or other social science graduate who wishes to apply their training to a real-world challenge. Natural sciences graduates who can demonstrate an interest in the social dimension and who would be able to pick up behavioural theories and research skills quickly are also encouraged to apply.


Applicants should have (at least) a first or upper second class honours degree in an appropriate subject and preferably a relevant MSc or MRes qualification and/or practical research experience.

The studentship is supported for three years and includes full home/EU tuition fees plus a stipend of £14,296 per annum. The studentship will only fully fund those applicants who are eligible for home/EU fees with relevant qualifications. Applicants normally required to cover overseas fees will have to cover the difference between the home/EU and the overseas tuition fee rates (approximately £11,040 per annum).

If you wish to discuss this project further informally, please contact R.C.Thompson@plymouth.ac.uk or Sabine.Pahl@plymouth.ac.uk. However, applications must be made in accordance with the details shown below.

General information about applying for a research degree at Plymouth University is available at: https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/student-life/your-studies/the-graduate-school/applicants-and-enquirers.

You can apply via the online application form which can be found at: https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/study/postgraduate and click ‘Apply’.
Please mark it FAO Mrs Carole Watson and clearly state that you are applying for a PhD studentship within the School of Biological and Marine Sciences.

For more information on the admissions process contact Mrs C Watson email: c.watson@plymouth.ac.uk.

The closing date for applications is 12 noon on 24 March 2017.

Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview on 19 April. We regret that we may not be able to respond to all applications. Applicants who have not received an offer of a place by 25 April should consider their application has been unsuccessful on this occasion.