Chantal Denise Pagel

Chantal Denise Pagel

Conservation Biologist/Founder, marine-wildlife.org
Doctor of Philosophy

Studying at AUT gave her the chance to learn from the best in her field, says Dr Chantal Denise Pagel who came to AUT as an international student from Germany to complete a PhD in marine tourism.

“I wanted to become an expert in my field, and both of my PhD supervisors – Professor Michael Lück from AUT’s School of Hospitality and Tourism, and Professor Mark Orams from the Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences – are leading experts in their field.”

For her doctoral research, Chantal explored risk, safety and comfort associated with close interactions with marine life in the South Pacific, and the interrelationship with social media.

“Such investigations are important because of the exposure of often inexperienced people to unpredictable wildlife in the unfamiliarity of an open-water environment and the widespread use of cameras in the ‘ocular consumption’ of wildlife in the era of social media.

“Using a qualitative research approach, I found that tour participants’ perceptions of risk were psychological, physical, visual, social and environmental while social media acted as an essential communication tool to share experiences on multiple levels. I’ve introduced the swim-with wildlife adventure recreation model (SWARM), which has management implications and opportunities for change. For example, two effective ways to mitigate perceived risk, discomfort and non-compliance are for commercial operators to present comprehensive pre-tour briefings and provide skilled in-water guides to enhance clients’ confidence.”

A supportive research environment
She enjoyed studying in such a supportive university environment, says Chantal who is sharing her knowledge of wildlife tourism in the marine environment through her website marine-wildlife.org and her Instagram account.

“I came into a very supportive group of fellow PhD students in the School of Hospitality and Tourism from which I’ve learned a lot. The PhD journey is often described as a lonely one and, fortunately for me, that was not true. Even when I crossed the stage on graduation day and my family could not be there with me, my colleagues and friends were there rooting for me.”

Throughout her studies Chantal had a number of achievements she is particularly proud of.

“I represented AUT at several topical conferences including the World Whale Conference in Hervey Bay in Australia and the Council for Australasian Tourism and Hospitality Education (CAUTHE) conference, which was held at the AUT City Campus. I was also able to publish my work in a number of book chapters and academic journals.”

Advice for other students
Chantal – who completed her PhD at the end of 2020, supported by an AUT Vice-Chancellor’s Doctoral Scholarship – has some great advice for other students considering doctoral study.

“My advice is to involve your supervisors in your work as much as possible and to organise yourself. You should also try to connect with other PhD students in your school or at AUT-wide mix and mingle events.”

She would highly recommend AUT to other postgraduate students.

“I would recommend AUT as it is a highly student-oriented young university that offers lots of support. For example, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I completed my PhD thesis during the New Zealand-wide level 4 lockdown. That was daunting but my supervisors regularly checked in on me and gave me support. AUT also allowed for a bit of flexibility, which was helpful too.”

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