Rebecca O’Brien successfully defended her PhD dissertation in July of 2023. Dr. O’Brien is now working for a non-profit in Tennessee that specializes in native plant seed banking for ecological restoration. Becca joined the Hopkins lab in the summer of 2018 as a PhD student studying the social and ecological aspects of conservation.  Her research focused on the effect that engaging landowners in ecological research has on their attitudes and opinions regarding science, conservation, and her subject of study: the eastern hellbender.  Becca’s ecological research focused on hellbender reproductive behavior with a particular emphasis on paternal care.

Becca’s interest in research began as an undergraduate at Colorado College where she studied environmental science and completed two independent research projects. The first looked at niche partitioning between native and invasive bee species in rural Paraguay, while the second addressed the population dynamics of ants and aphids in desert yucca communities. Following her graduation from Colorado College in 2012, Becca spent three years as a seasonal wildlife biologist, working on projects ranging from invasive trout removal in Yosemite to radio tracking arboreal pit vipers in Hong Kong. In 2015, she returned to school for her master’s degree at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill working in the lab of Dr. Karin Pfennig. There she studied the causes of sexual signal diversification using the plains spadefoot toad, Spea bombifrons, as a model system.

Becca was thrilled to return to conservation-based research for her PhD. During her tenure at Virginia Tech she was also co-advised by Dr. Ashley Dayer.

Becca O'Brien photo 2

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