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Edward O'Brien: 2008 Faculty Excellence, Graduate Faculty Mentor

By Jim Graham, Editorial and Creative Services
February 18, 2009

Edward J. O'Brien
Edward O'Brien, professor of psychology / Lisa Nugent, UNH Photo Services

Psychology students might be perplexed by one "top–ten" list item they encounter when studying with Ed O'Brien. "If you crash the Z100, don't bother to tell him, just leave the country."

It's a lighthearted reference to O'Brien's trusty-yet-cantankerous Zenith Z100 computer (circa 1983), which is still used in his research lab.

Perhaps it's also an apt metaphor for how O'Brien approaches his graduate mentoring role: he holds students to exacting standards. The material often isn't easy to grasp. But tackling it, together, can also be done with the sort of good humor and ingenuity that makes learning less intimidating—and more rewarding.

"He can be intense as an adviser. He'll work you hard. But you always get something out of it," says Anne E. Cook, an associate professor at the University of Utah, who was mentored by O'Brien. "Ed works very hard to turn his students into colleagues."

There can be no greater praise for someone who helps UNH graduate students become some of the nation's leading professors and researchers in psychology.

"How can you advance the field if you don't, on occasion, produce students who are better than you?" says O'Brien, who teaches statistics and advanced research methods.

While at UNH, O'Brien has mentored 11 students to doctoral degrees and more than a dozen others to graduate degrees. Their enthusiasm for research inspires his own research on reading comprehension and memory.

"I watch them from when they're right out of undergraduate school to five years later, when they're faculty," O'Brien says. "It's not easy. So students who make it through five years with me feel a sense of pride that they can do this work."

Widely published and highly regarded as a presenter and teacher, O'Brien nevertheless imagines his constant companion—Riley, a border collie with a penchant for chasing Frisbees—is better known around Durham.

"He comes to school with me everyday," O'Brien says. "I've been here 20 years, and I think Riley is still recognized by more people than I am."

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