PhD Studentship – Plastics and plankton: How big a problem?

University of Essex – School of Biological Sciences

Qualification type: PhD

Location: Essex
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: £14,296

Closes: 8th January 2017

Supervisors: Dr Michael Steinke (University of Essex), Dr Penelope Lindeque, Dr Nicola Beaumont, Professor Richard Thompson (University of Plymouth)

Scientific background: Microscopic plastic beads, fragments and fibres, collectively termed microplastics ( contain microplastics.

Aim: The aim of this PhD is to investigate the ingestion of microplastics by marine biota, including the wider implications for the marine ecosystem and human wellbeing.

Methods: This PhD will investigate the spatial and temporal overlap between microplastics and pelagic organisms in the marine environment and therefore the probability of encounter. Factors affecting the bioavailability of microplastics to pelagic marine organisms will be determined as will the potential of an organism to ingest microplastics. This is of particular importance for determining the wider impacts of microplastics on the marine food web and potential levels of contamination in organisms intended for human consumption.

Using laboratory facilities and field based sampling you will address the following questions:

Are interactions between microplastics and marine life more likely in coastal areas?
Does the type, size or colour of microplastics affect bioavailability?
Are aged microplastics more readily ingested than new plastics?
Does the developmental stage of an organism affect its potential for microplastic ingestion?
What are the broader implications of microplastics for the marine ecosystem and human wellbeing?
Person specification: We seek an enthusiastic student with excellent attention to detail and a keen interest in the marine environment. The student will join a dynamic group predominantly based at Plymouth Marine Laboratory under the supervision of Dr Pennie Lindeque and Dr Nicola Beaumont. Together with partners from Plymouth University (Prof. Richard Thompson), University of Essex (Dr. Michael Steinke) and DEFRA (Dr. Tarquin Dorrington) the supervisory team provides a world leading group in marine biology and plastics. Candidates are encouraged to contact the lead supervisor ( for further information.

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with twenty other research partners.

Shortlisted applicants will be invited to an interview day on the 14th or 15th February 2017.

Funding: Successful candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship. In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award. In 2016/17, the stipend was £14,296

For further information, please visit

Closing date for this application is midnight 8 January 2017. Please apply online via

For general information about the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Essex please visit our webpages

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