Julia O'Connor: MBL Intern Spotlight

O'Connor testing the new interactive microscopy exhibit in the MBL's Marine Resources Center.

Julia O’Connor, a marine biology major at Roger Williams University, interned at the MBL’s Marine Resources Center under MBL Veterinarian Lisa Abbo from Dec. 2020 - June 2021 and again from Dec. 2021 - Jan. 2022.

Why did you decide to apply to the MBL internship program?

I came to the MBL on a gap semester from my studies at Roger Williams, during the spring of my sophomore year. COVID-learning was not working with my learning style, and I was going to volunteer at the MBL for what was going to be my extended winter break.  Upon speaking with Dr. Abbo, we decided I could extend my time as a volunteer there until the end of the semester.  I loved it so much I came back as a full-time intern for this past winter!

What was your favorite part of your internship?

Working with the cephalopod program and helping Dr. Abbo with the studies she was completing was really cool!  I loved working with such intelligent (and funny!) animals, and it was a truly eye-opening experience to be involved with new research.  The Octopus Bimaculoides (affectionately known as the bimacs) were spunky little dudes that certainly kept me on my toes!

Intern Julia O'Connor holding up a shell at a beach.
Former MBL Intern Julia O'Connor at a rocky beach near her home institution of Roger Williams University. Courtesy: Julia O'Connor
Intern Julia O'Connor inspecting a tank in the MBL's Marine Resources Center
O'Connor dons magnifying glasses and wields a flashlight to look in a sample tank during her time as an intern at the MBL. Courtesy: Julia O'Connor
 Intern Julia O'Connor holding two sea urchins in the MBL's Marine Resources Center.
Former MBL Intern Julia O'Connor holds two sea urchins in the MBL's Marine Resources Center (MRC). Courtesy: Julia O'Connor
A California two-spot octopus (O. bimaculoides) in a tank in the MBL's Marine Resouces Center.
A California two-spot octopus (O. bimaculoides) in a tank in the MBL's Marine Resources Center. Credit: Julia O'Connor

How do you think the internship will help you in your career?

During my time as a volunteer and as an intern I was taught the basics of animal care for several different species of local and foreign species, and now I know how to learn the ins and outs of animal care in general. I also learned how to think on my feet in a lab setting, and the uncertainty that comes from working with live animals.

What’s one fun thing you learned during your internship that you didn’t expect?

I learned how to avoid getting splashed by and octopus’s siphon! They don’t love being taken out of their homes when the tanks had to be cleaned, so they would shoot water at me. I learned the warning signs of when it looks like they’re getting agitated and how to dodge their jets of water(they have really good aim!)

Do you have a favorite anecdote from your internship?

I cannot speak highly enough about all my time at the MRC, but a highlight was definitely when I got to go squid collecting on The Gemma, the MBL’s trawler. We went a few places around Vineyard Sound where the water was hundreds of fathoms (aka really) deep and went trawling for squid for some of the researchers. The trawlers picked up a lot of squid, but also a lot of other things, including some little skates and smooth dogfish. The highlight of the trip for me was getting to hold the dogfish and release her back to the wild where she belongs.


CORRECTION: This story originally said O'Connor was an intern under the "Blue Economy Internship Program (BEIP)," but the BEIP program is only available to students at public undergraduate and high schools in Massachusetts. O'Connor was a regular MBL intern.

Learn more about MBL Internships