On Friday, January 26, L’Institut Agro Rennes-Angers awarded the title of Honorary Doctorate to Professor William Cheung, director of the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries at the University of British Columbia.
This title is one of the most prestigious distinctions conferred by French higher education institutions. It is intended to honor individuals of foreign nationality for outstanding services rendered to literature and the arts, sciences and technology – in France, or at a higher education institution located outside of France.
The school is proud to have among its honorary doctors iconic figures in their respective fields of research.
Recognized by Reuters among the 20 most influential climate scientists
William Cheung is a fisheries biologist and marine science researcher currently leading the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries at the University of British Columbia. Particularly renowned for his work in the field of fisheries ecology and climate change, William Cheung has demonstrated, through his research on the distribution of marine species and fisheries, how climate variations influence marine ecosystems, fishery resources, and consequently, coastal communities.
A long-standing scientific collaboration with the school
After an introduction by Alessia Lefébure, the school’s director, Didier Gascuel, a professor in marine ecology and director of the fisheries pole, they presented William Cheung’s brilliant career and the history of the school’s collaboration with the University of British Columbia. This distinction marks the culmination of a long history of researchers since 2007, starting with a research program (SIAP, 2000-2004). This program concerned the assessment of fisheries resources in West Africa and was reinforced by the one-year stay of Professor Didier Gascuel in Vancouver in 2006-2007 as part of an international Marie Curie fellowship.
The work focused on the impact of fishing on marine ecosystems with Daniel Pauly (a widely recognized professor and researcher in fisheries science) as the main partner. It was during this time that Didier Gascuel met William Cheung (then a post-doc at UBC). When the latter became the scientific director of the Nereus Program- “The future of the Ocean”, he invited the team from L’Institut Agro to join. The Nereus Program is a network of excellence comprising 16 international universities from 2015 to 2021.
The research themes now focus on the impact of climate change on both fishing and the functioning of marine ecosystems. This collaboration has materialized, among other things, in co-supervision of two thesis students (Hubert du Pontavice, 2016-2020, and recently Vianney Guibourd de Luzinais), as well as numerous internships and dissertations, and a strong joint scientific production.
Working with William Cheung’s teams has significantly contributed to establishing the research conducted at L’Institut Agro within a framework of scientific collaboration of excellence on an international scale, especially within the Nereus network. This network has facilitated the establishment of relationships and research collaborations with numerous partners.
L’Institut Agro has also more recently entered a broader international network of excellence called Fish-Mip (with sixty partners on 5 continents). This network focuses on modeling the effects of climate change on marine ecosystems and fisheries. Finally, the work of L’Institut Agro (as part of the UMR Decod) which is concerned with the modeling of marine ecosystems, has gained significant international visibility.
All these collaborations concretely enable participation in international networks of excellence, with a priority on topics of anticipating and adapting marine activities to climate change. They illuminate and echo the school’s ambitions as a training institution.
“A great scientist, but also and above all, a good man, attentive to his students and colleagues”Didier Gascuel
As Alessia Lefébure emphasized, the individuals chosen by the school for this tribute are selected for their strong scientific ties to the institution and because they share the values of our school. Didier Gascuel highlighted William Cheung’s human and interpersonal qualities: “You are not only a great scientist, but also an incredibly generous man, always attentive to your students and colleagues…working with you is not only an honor but also a great pleasure.”
We are very proud to have William Cheung among our Honorary Doctors and to contribute together to accelerate awareness and actions to address climate change on an oceanic scale.
At the end of the ceremony, William Cheung engaged in a question-and-answer session with fisheries engineering students. Among other things, he shared his daily life as a reporter for the IPCC, both in practical and intellectual aspects. When asked about his role as a researcher in these instances (which sometimes seem to have insufficient impact on policymakers), he shared how their collective choices highlight particularly important points in the reports.
Meeting with students
He also, in turn, challenged future engineers on their responsibility as scientists, explaining how his involvement in the IPCC was now central to the way he conducts his research. True to values of openness and ethics, he urged students on their future responsibility as scientists and strongly encouraged them to apply for the IPCC internship program.