Double celebration for Melanie and Christophe

@JCU Double celebration for Melanie and Christophe

Chris and Mel

Christophe Cleguer and Melanie Hamel last week, after graduating. Photo: JCU Media

Completing your PhD and planning a wedding at the same time is not everyone’s idea of a walk in the park, but Christophe Cleguer and Melanie Hamel managed just that.

The duo graduated last week with their PhDs in Townsville. It caps off an exciting six months, after they married in France last August.

However, their journey to this point understandably took a lot of hard work and co-operation.

Dr Hamel, who works as a Research and Communications Officer at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at JCU, completed her PhD under Professor Bob Pressey.

Her work was hosted by the Centre and co-funded by the IRD (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement) - a French research organisation.

Dr Hamel’s work was in the discipline of conservation planning. She investigated the design of protected areas in resource-dependent countries in the Pacific.

“To protect biodiversity in these countries, you need to have a good understanding of the way people are dependent on the ecosystem, and its value to them. So it was about integrating the people side with the biodiversity side, in our choices about the location and types of marine reserves.”

Dr Cleguer undertook his research into dugongs under the co-supervision of Professor Helene Marsh in the College of Marine and Environmental Science at JCU in Townsville and Professor Claude Payri from the IRD in New Caledonia (a branch of the University Pierre and Marie Curie in Paris).

Dr Cleguer studied dugongs in the lagoons and coral reefs of New Caledonia. He examined the temporal variability of the size of the dugong population in New Caledonia and identified key areas where the protection of dugongs could be enhanced. Local management agencies are using his results in developing a conservation plan for this vulnerable species.

They have both been at JCU for four years.

The wedding was organised during their study, Dr Hamel said.

“Basically, we handed in our theses on the Saturday, then on the Monday we flew to France to get married,” Drs Hamel and Cleguer said.

“Then we had about two weeks to get ready for the big day!”

Dr Cleguer, who hails from Brittany, and Dr Hamel, who is from Normandy, said they had a great deal of help in preparing for the wedding from their family and friends via the internet.

“The stress really builds up in the last six months of the PhD. There was that, plus the wedding preparations. We spent a lot of time on Skype with our parents and family.

“It was challenging – spending nearly 12 hours a day at work, then going home at night and planning the wedding. And trying not to argue in the process!”

The hard work paid off, with the pair married on August 29, 2015 in Carantec, Brittany.

Chris and Mel - wedding day

Photo: Joseph Delahaye

The pair met in New Zealand in 2008 through mutual friends, and despite periods of time apart when travelling back and forth from France, they knew they were meant to be together. They became engaged at Horseshoe Bay on Magnetic Island, at the beginning of their PhD studies.

“My idea was: we are starting this new journey together, I know we’ll have challenging moments, but we’ll do it together. I said “We’ll see about the wedding later on. It made sense to get married right after we finished. Having that flight ticket, knowing we had to get it (the PhD) done.”

The couple said their journey at JCU was made much easier with great support from their advisors.

“We would probably still be writing our thesis if our advisory team wasn’t there to help us!”

chris and mel

And the hard work paid off! Christophe and Melanie at their graduation ceremony. Photo: Hector Barrios-Garrido