Professor Nancy O’Connor creates rare marine biology REU site

Professor Nancy O’Connor and Professor Tara Rajaniemi were awarded a $343,070 grant through the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Site Grant Program to provide hands-on research opportunities for young undergraduate researchers and scientists.

photo of student doing research at UMass Dartmouth REU site

After weeks of preparation, Professor Nancy O’Connor and Professor Tara Rajaniemi are finally watching their project come to life.

They were awarded a $343,070 grant through the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Site Grant Program to provide hands-on research opportunities for young undergraduate researchers and scientists.

“I want students to be able to develop as scientists and as professionals,” said O’Connor, who is principal investigator for this project. “I also want them to learn how to translate their research for a non-scientist.”

During the course of the 10 weeks, the students will learn how research is conducted and keep blogs of their work. Many will be invited to present the results of their work at scientific conferences at the end of the summer.

Besides conducting their own research, the “Integrative Marine Biology for the 21st Century” project provides students with weekly workshops that focus on research proposal development, research ethics, and career preparation. As an added component, the students travel to New Bedford to experience the rich fishing history that exists in the heart of the city. 

“I really wanted to embed the students into the New Bedford community, so they can learn about the history of the fishing industry and the Whaling Museum,” O’Connor said. “They will learn about New Bedford and share their experiences when they return home.”

Professor O’Connor has a lot in common with the 10 students from the REU site. O’Connor, a 1980 UMass Dartmouth alumna, participated in a REU program as an undergraduate. Her professor at the time, Dr. O’Brien, recognized O’Connor’s aptitude for science, and he recommended an REU site at Duke University.

O’Connor applied, got the placement, and spent a summer in Duke’s marine lab. “The experience helped me realize how much I loved research,” she said. “I wanted to duplicate that for students.”


College of Arts and Sciences, Features - Student Research, Research