Two Lovebirds: One Unexpected Love Story in Biological Sciences

April 25, 2024

An unexpected encounter turned into romance for a graduate school couple in the LSU Department of Biological Sciences. They found love where they least expected it.

Melanie Kimball and Ben Toups

Melanie Kimball, PhD, from Baltimore, Maryland moved to the Deep South to start graduate school at LSU. Her interests led her to Christine Lattin, PhD's lab where she studied neuro circuits of anxiety behaviors in birds, in addition to understanding neophobia, or fear of new things. Unlike the birds, she was open to finding love. 

The story begins when Kimball met Ben Toups, PhD, from Mandeville, Louisiana at graduate recruitment in March 2019. They went on their first date the week the graduate program started in August 2019. The two quickly connected over their heart for biology and passion for their discoveries in the Life Sciences Building and Annex labs. 

“I remember asking him how teaching was going and how his classes were going so far," said Kimball. "We talked about our science a little bit because we study different things in biology.”

Toups had been studying evolution a few doors down in Jeremy Brown, PhD's lab. He focused on evolutionary trees, the stories behind their genetic data and how to untangle variations.

Melanie and Ben's Wedding

While juggling their research, high-stress environments and impostor syndrome, they leaned on each other throughout their schooling. Kimball went from knowing Toups as a friend, to a boyfriend, and soon after that, her fiancée. 

In their final year, they decided to take their next big step as a couple: marriage. Friends and family members flocked from the northeast to the south in December 2023 and they held their wedding at the Audubon Tea Room at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. 

"The zoo seemed like a perfect place for two biologists to get married," said Kimball. "We had around 200 people there. We have big families. Both of our labs were invited to the wedding as well."

From a beautiful night with breathtaking views, soaring ceilings, silk drapes and vegan Louisiana cuisine, Toups and Kimball returned home to take on one of their first, and unique challenges as a married couple. They had to prepare to defend their PhD's in March, a goal they set early on in dating. 

"It was definitely like a pressure cooker," said Toups. "We knew that if we could get through this high-stress time together, we could get through anything. We were going through the same thing so we could support each other."

On March 25, 2024, Toups succeeded in defending his PhD. Kimball defended hers in the same week.

"I feel like when you're a graduate student the dating pool is really small so I'm sure a lot of folks meet their spouse in grad school," said Kimball. "I think it's pretty rare to find your spouse in the same department and defend at the same time."

What’s next?

The lovebirds plan to use their new titles as husband, wife and now doctor outside of the boot. Kimball is planning on pursuing a post-doctoral degree in Arizona or California. Toups is on the hunt for data science and biotech jobs. They eventually hope to migrate between families in Maryland and Louisiana.