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Mara Phelan '10 Honored for Marine Biology Research in Philippines

Mara Phelan '10 Honored for
Marine Biology Research in Philippines

by Alisa Giardinelli

Mara Phelan '10
Mara Phelan '10 getting ready to make collections in Romblon, Philippines.

As an intern with a team of molecular ecologists and conservationists working on the Coral Triangle Pire Project, Mara Phelan '10 spent three months in the Indo-Malay-Philippine Archipelago helping to document the region's marine biodiversity. Her work included collecting coral reef taxa, establishing a genetics lab, and sequencing specimens. At the internship's conclusion, she presented her research on the genetic structure of various Stomatopod species, a type of crustacean. 

"I will never forget the rush I felt every time I dove off the bangka with my team members into the endless blue," she says. "I collected most samples using snorkel, so after some frustration, I perfected my rhythm of diving down and maneuvering a small net over an anemone to collect nemo.  The work was really exhausting, but I felt an immense sense of accomplishment at the end of the day."

For her efforts, Phelan received an undergraduate mentoring and diversity program award from the Society for Molecular Biology and Education. In addition to an invitation to present her work at the organization's international conference, she will be paired with two mentors in the field to help her explore possible career options.


Phelan credits Professor of Biology Rachel Merz, with whom she took marine biology as a sophomore, for encouraging her to seek out research opportunities. "Swarthmore has really prepared me to think like a scientist and act as a responsible conservationist," she says. "I hope to gain a greater understanding of the importance of molecular biology in creating successful conservation strategies."