Inspired by the mind-blowing process of evolution and the amazing feathered dinosaurs being unearthed in China, O’Connor decided to study paleontology and focus on Chinese fossils. O’Connor did her PhD studying Mesozoic birds at the University of Southern California (2009) with Drs David Bottjer and Luis Chiappe (Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History). After graduation she moved to Beijing, China where she has been working for the past ten years with Dr. Zhonghe Zhou at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.
O’Connor’s research explores the repeated evolution (and parallel refinement) of flight in the Dinosauria, the dinosaur-bird transition, and the biology of stem-avians, not through any one aspect but exploring Paraves through the evolution of feathers and complex plumages, aerodynamics, reproduction, respiration, trophics, systematics, ontogeny, and taxonomy. Taking advantage of the exceptional soft tissue preservation of the Jehol Biota, O’Connor’s research seeks to go beyond skeletal anatomy, to understand the biology of stem birds and their closest relatives and trace the evolution of modern avian features.