Augmented taxonomic analysis of Continuous Plankton Recorder data using Artificial Intelligence


To apply please use the online application form. Simply search for PhD Marine Sciences, then clearly state that you are applying for a PhD studentship and name the project at the top of your personal statement.

Online application

Before applying, please ensure you have read the Doctoral College’s general information on applying for a research degree.

For more information on the admissions process please contact

The closing date for applications is 12 noon on 28 May 2021

Supervisory team: Dr Alex Nimmo Smith (University of Plymouth), Dr Pierre Hélaouët, Prof Willie Wilson (both Marine Biological Association)

Project description

The Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) Survey – a program of the Marine Biological Association - is a globally recognised leader on the impacts of environmental change on the health of our oceans.

The CPR team has a long tradition of taxonomic analysis with more than 61 years of stable protocols. However, current plankton observation methods are manual, using nets or towed mechanical samplers to strain plankton from ocean water with human analysts identifying and counting species under microscopes by hand. The recently started iCPR project aims to enhance the CPR survey activities by adopting innovative technologies and developing new analysis methodologies.

The PhD student will be joining the expanding iCPR team as an integrating element of the work package that focusses on a new chapter of the CPR instrumentation program by integrating environmental sensors, ex-situ analysis and innovative in-situ images from the University of Plymouth’s holographic camera (holocam). Artificial Intelligence has a central role as it will be used for real-time automatic classification of images that, in turn, will lead towards our ground-breaking project of augmented taxonomic analysis.

The main objectives for the PhD are 1) To process images from different sources (ex situ: FlowCam and microscopes) and in situ (holocam) to obtain a new generation of merged digital libraries. 2) To use transfer learning as an approach to train existing deep learning models for image classification. 3) To contribute to the design and critical assessment of a new interactive tool for augmented taxonomic analysis by closely interacting with the CPR taxonomic team.


Applicants should have a first or upper second class honours degree in an appropriate subject and preferably a relevant Masters qualification.

The studentship is supported for three years and includes full tuition fees (whether Home or International) plus a stipend of £15,609 per annum.

If you wish to discuss this project further informally, please contact Dr Alex Nimmo Smith.

Please see a list of supporting documents to upload with your application. Additionally, for this studentship, a two-page covering letter stating why you would like to undertake this PhD and evidencing your suitability for the studentship should be included.

The closing date for applications is 12 noon on 28 May 2021. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview in mid-June (dates tbc). We regret that we are not be able to respond to all applications. Applicants who have not received a response within six weeks of the closing date should consider their application has been unsuccessful on this occasion.