Engaged couple graduate with PhDs on same day


Dr Kirsty Chidgey and Dr Nicholas Sneddon, who are engaged to be married, graduated from Massey Unversity today.


Dr Nicholas Sneddon and Dr Kirsty Chidgey are living proof that working and playing together can be the winning formula, as they crossed the stage in Manawatū to receive their doctoral degrees today.

Dr Nicholas Sneddon and Dr Kirsty Chidgey are living proof that working and playing together can be the winning formula, as they crossed the stage in Manawatū to receive their doctoral degrees today.

The pair met in their first year of university and have been studying together ever since. When asked how they coped with completing simultaneous doctoral degrees, Dr Chidgey says, “A lot of people mention that, but I think it allowed us to bounce ideas off one another and we could fully understand what the other were going through.”

Although the pair did have to cope with long periods apart for their research, with Dr Chidgey spending weeks at a time in Waikato where her research was based, and Dr Sneddon conducting some research in Ireland, the pair adapted to their hectic schedules.

Dr Sneddon adds that they complement each other’s strengths and look after each other. “I helped Kirsty with her mathematics and she helped me with my writing, so it worked out really well. When one of us would have a day when we were just over it, we knew to drop work for a while for the other and just have a relaxing weekend.”

Dr Sneddon grew up on a dairy farm, but is the only son that decided not to pursue dairy farming in the traditional sense. Although he supported himself throughout his study years by milking on the side, he doesn’t think he could have done it long-term.

“I’m not exactly a morning person and with four brothers doing it, plus mum and dad, I thought I would pursue dairy cow breeding instead. I milked cows throughout my undergraduate degree, and I got a few scholarships during my PhD including the Colin Holmes Dairy scholarship and the LIC Pat Shannon scholarship, so I could work a little less.”

Dr Sneddon’s research focused on the potential to modify the composition of milk through selective breeding to contain more lactose in whole milk powder. He did this by undertaking a genetic and economic evaluation of dairy cows in New Zealand and found that including lactose yield in the national breeding objective for New Zealand dairy cattle could reduce the lactose deficit by nine per cent, saving the dairy industry around $60 million per year.

He recently took up a role across the road from Massey’s Manawatū campus at Fonterra, as a senior analyst on the On-Farm Research and Development team. “I’m settling in now and liking the role, so I could see myself doing this for a long time.”

Dr Chidgey’s thesis compared sow and piglet productivity and behaviour in farrowing crates and farrowing pens on a commercial pig farm. She found piglet mortality was significantly higher in farrowing pens than in farrowing crates, suggesting reduced piglet welfare in this system. She also found that sows that were reared in pens were more interactive towards their own piglets, irrespective of whether they gave birth in a crate or a pen.

She describes herself as an animal person from a very young age, but could never have dreamed of her field of research at a city school.

“It was only after studying at Massey that I realised animal science was even an option, as you just aren’t exposed to that kind of thing in the city.

“When I started living on the lifestyle block is when I developed a specific interest in pigs. They’re just a really interesting animal and I found that the more I learnt about them, the more I wanted to know.”

Dr Chidgey is currently working at Massey’s Veterinary Institute, involved in teaching Bachelor of Veterinary Science and animal science students. She also has a part-time role with New Zealand Pork as an animal welfare scientist.

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