Shannon O’Neil (’13) 5th Year Masters

Shannon O'Neil

I have known since high school that I wanted a career in environmental science.  Shortly after coming to Clark, I discovered that the Environmental and Conservation Biology major, which offers students whose interests lie in preserving biodiversity a science-based course of study. During my time at Clark, I have found my main interests to be animal behavior, evolution, and conservation. Last year I was ecstatic to learn that I had been granted a Lise Anne and Leo E. Beavers, II Research Fellowship for the summer of 2010 so that I could pursue my research interests through the study of diversionary displays of male threespine stickleback. Cannibalistic foraging groups of threespine stickleback, which are found in lakes with benthic (bottom feeding) stickleback, will cannibalize the embryos in nests guarded by parental males.  To prevent this, males perform diversionary displays, a behavior also seen in their ancestors, to distract the groups from their nests.

I was also quite pleased to be offered the opportunity to conduct field work in British Columbia for two weeks in May 2010 in order to help Justin Golub complete his Ph.D. research, which focuses on the learning abilities of threespine stickleback in their early life stages. More specifically, the research explores stickleback’s ability to learn predator avoidance. I learned a lot about stickleback behavior on this trip in addition to getting field experience and having a lot of fun!

The following summer I had the opportunity to go to the Cook Inlet region of Alaska where I was able to observe diversionary displays in the field, and it was on these that I decided to focus my masters research. Through experimentation I discovered that all populations can perform the display, even if it has not been used for 12,000 years, and that not all the populations perform the same displays. This research formed the basis of my accelerated Master’s degree at Clark which I completed in Spring, 2012.

Outside the lab: Aside from focusing on my science studies, I spent a fair amount of time during my undergraduate career working at the Clark University Recycling Center. I held this work study position for all of my four undergraduate years at Clark, and although it was not the most glamorous job (it’s rare that a shift goes by without getting a good whiff of rotten milk or discovering some non-recyclable object in a recycling bin which makes you wonder (1) why someone would put it there and (2) for that reason, if you should touch it.  I truly enjoyed working there and exploring a non-science aspect of the environmental field. I also enjoy reading, baking, ultimate frisbee, skiing, and most other outdoor activities.


  • Lise Anne and Leo E. Beavers II Summer Research Fellowship, 2010