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Science with impact at PML

21 January 2021

In the latest assessment of the UK’s research centres, released today, Plymouth Marine Laboratory has been shown to excel in the quality and real-world impact of its science, with a significant proportion of its research impacts deemed to be “world-leading”.

PML research vessel, Plymouth Quest

Taking part in the “Evaluation of Research Excellence and Impact of NERC Research Centres” for the first time, the strength and relevance of PML’s globally important research across a wide range of marine-related topics, is recognized by independent panels of experts.  

Along with the five other leading UK Centres receiving government funding through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) via the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), PML was assessed against rigorous criteria, similar to that used for assessing Universities’ academic performance. The assessment covered three key areas: Research Excellence; Impact Excellence; and Research and Impact Environment. 

PML’s performance in the ‘Research’ and ‘Impact’ areas scored highly with its research overwhelmingly recognized as of internationally excellent or world-leading quality. PML also performed well against the criteria assessing its Research Environment, which provides the infrastructure and workplace ethos essential for encouraging top quality, high-impact research. 

PML Chief Executive, Professor Icarus Allen, is delighted with the assessment outcome:  

“It is very gratifying for independent assessors to confirm what we have known for many years; that PML makes a very significant contribution to the UK’s globally recognized expertise in marine science. I am especially pleased that the impact of our research has been recognized. We were allowed to submit four case studies for assessment and they all demonstrated significant, considerable and in some instances global impact, and fell within the top two categories giving them a combined ‘score’ of 100%. So PML’s research is making a real difference, which is central to our core vision as a charity.” 

The case studies highlighted PML’s impact nationally, internationally and globally on issues such as climate change-related ocean acidification, marine plastic pollution, informing selection of marine conservation zones and valuing marine ecosystems and the benefits they provide for the environment and humanity. 

Professor Stephen Widdicombe, PML’s Director of Science added:

“The results of the assessment are an excellent recognition of the hard work, dedication, experience and expertise of PML’s scientists and the teams that support them. This is a glowing endorsement of our approach, which is targeted towards science with purpose; science that benefits society. Our ethos is to provide research conclusions that underpin policy, management, and broader public understanding leading to a better planet for all life on Earth. It is great to know that other people see this in action.” 

While strong validation of PML’s outputs and approach are very welcome they are not an excuse for complacency, something Professor Allen is very aware of: 

“Reports such as this are just one measure of our abilities and success, and we are always conscious that we can improve further, indeed this report includes a few pointers. But we are well aware of where we can do better and our new Corporate and Science Strategies have highlighted areas where we can enhance our successes.  

“Over the last few years, we have invested, with welcome contributions from NERC, in improved and additional laboratory and other facilities to enable our scientists to go on to greater achievements. Training of staff and equipping them to contribute to and participate in high level policy and other meetings will ensure our science gets to where it is most relevant and can have most impact, those are among our priorities going forward. Constantly improving staff welfare ensures a friendly, supportive and productive working environment.  

“Locally, we are collaborating more closely with marine research partners in Plymouth; nationally we continue to provide high quality research that underpins the UK’s position as a global player in understanding the marine environment (this category and an important part of PML’s research did not fall within the scope of this assessment); and internationally we continue to forge new and build upon existing partnerships. PML has an excellent future, and validation of the work we do, how we do it and how relevant it is from external experts is very welcome.”


Professor Steve Widdicombe discusses PML's science and its impact:

Related information

NERC/UKRI: 'Research centres are found to be "internationally excellent"'

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