Frances Paula Solomon, Ph.D.
King County Department of Natural Resources
Education: B.A. in Biology, University of Rochester,
Rochester, New York
M.S. in Librarianship, Simmons College,
M.S. in Environmental Health, University of
Washington, Seattle, WA
Ph.D. in Fisheries/Aquatic Ecology,
University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Research Areas: impacts of toxic chemicals on aquatic
organisms and ecosystems
Specialty: pollution prevention and control in lakes and urban
bays; lake, stream, and
wetland restoration; fish habitat enhancement
Fields: aquatic ecology, limnology, aquatic toxicology,
Birthplace: New York, New York
Publications: encyclopedia article, journal articles,
scientific reports, action plans for
streams, lakes and urban bays, book chapters, Ph.D. dissertation
Representative examples are:
Solomon, Frances P.: Principles of Limnology. Encyclopedia of
and Engineering. Fourth Edition, Gordon and Breach Science
Pennsylvania (invited paper, in press).
Solomon, Fran, Joe Brogan, Amy Carlson, and Mike Tseng. 1997.
Swamp Creek Action
Plan. King County Department of Natural Resources, Seattle, WA.
Solomon, Frances, Sharon Walton, Kent Easthouse, Debra
Bouchard, and Phil Noppe.
1996. Cottage Lake Management Plan. King County Surface Water
Division, Seattle, WA.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it?
My first job in the field of aquatic ecology/environmental
biology was a consulting scientist position with the National Academy of Sciences. I participated on a nationwide,
interdisciplinary team of scientists who were researching and
writing a book entitled "Impacts of Emerging Agricultural Trends on Fish and Wildlife Habitat". This book was distributed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for use in environmental policy development. My responsibilities included brainstorming the content of the book, researching, writing, and editing specific sections, and coordinating team activities. From this job, I learned the importance of teamwork and how to build consensus on a multidisciplinary team. Since the book needed to be produced in a short period of time, I also learned how to hit the ground running on a new project and how to work effectively under pressure by breaking up large projects into small tasks and prioritizing the tasks to be accomplished.
What inspired you to choose your current field or the
position you currently hold?
My interest in biology was catalyzed by Mrs. Miriam Smith, my
wonderful high school biology teacher. She showed how fascinating the study of living organisms can be and inspired me to major in biology in college.
My interest in the specialty of environmental biology and
aquatic ecology was fostered by
timing and role models. My first career after college
graduation was science librarianship. This was in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the environmental movement was emerging. Many of my library clients requested literature searches on topics related to water pollution impacts. I started to do some reading on my own on these topics and contemplated switching careers to become an environmental biologist. I was encouraged in this direction by several women who were environmental biologists, enjoyed their work, and had satisfying personal lives. I made the decision to pursue graduate studies in the field of environmental
biology, focusing on impacts of water pollution on aquatic organisms, ecosystems, and human health.
Why would you encourage other women or young women and
girls to choose careers
in your field? What advice would you give someone who wanted
to choose your career?
I would encourage other women or young women and girls to
choose careers in my field because the work is very challenging and satisfying. There are many environmental problems in the U.S. and worldwide. A person working in this field has the opportunity to advance scientific knowledge or to apply scientific knowledge in a practical, positive way to make a difference and leave a legacy. Environmental work is
important, necessary work.
I would give the following advice to someone who wanted to
choose my career. First, I would recommend that she obtain an interdisciplinary background including biology,
chemistry, physics, statistics, engineering, hydrology,
toxicology, and environmental planning. In addition to having a broad background, it would be wise to have a specialty
or a particular niche. Second, I would highly recommend that a
prospective environmental biologist obtain job experience while an
undergraduate and graduate student through internships (e.g., work-study programs or summer jobs) as well as research and teaching assistantships. Obtaining real world experience while in school will make one's education more meaningful, give a student an idea of what kinds of jobs she would like, and provide experience and professional contacts that will be a good foot in the door for employment after graduation.
Unfortunately, the job market for aquatic ecologists and other
environmental biologists is tight now, especially in Seattle. Therefore, I would advise someone entering this field to be persistent and to be prepared for long job hunts. I would not allow this prospect to be daunting, however, because the job market may change by the time a student has completed her education, and it is important to choose work that you will enjoy. I would not advocate choosing a career based solely on current job availability.
A related piece of advice is to be flexible. It is common
nowadays for people to change jobs or career directions several times during their working lives. Don't worry if you do this. Many prominent scientists whom I have met have changed their career goals and
directions at different stages of their lives and have taken
unexpected twists and turns in their careers. Very often, one's Plan B works out as well as or better than Plan A.
Finally, seek supportive people in your life. Family members, friends, teachers, colleagues, members of your community who will encourage you,
support your career goals, mentor you, and show you through their example that you can be successful in this career.
What motivates or inspires you on a daily basis in your
field or job?
I am motivated and inspired on a daily basis by the knowledge
that my work is in concordance with my values. My efforts, combined with my colleagues efforts, will add up to protect water quality and aquatic resources in the Pacific Northwest. My field is also intellectually challenging, as I have the opportunity to continually learn new skills and
expand my expertise.
What do you see as the single most interesting element of
To me, the single most interesting element of my work is
solving environmental problems( i.e., analyzing research or field data, determining the best solution ) and coordinating with teams of people to implement the solution.
Why is your field or industry important to society?
My field is important in order to reverse destruction of the
natural environment and loss of valuable natural resources. There are many water pollution and hazardous waste problems in both freshwater and marine ecosystems. These problems impact all of us without
regard for national boundaries, political ideology, or socioeconomic status.
What is your vision for your industry's or field's future?
What are some of the exciting
things to watch for in your field or industry?
My vision for the future of the environmental biology/aquatic
ecology field encompasses imparting a sense of community stewardship to individual citizens, including business owners, and increasing their understanding that pollution prevention is to their advantage. I hope to see heightened awareness of environmental issues, an understanding that a healthy environment and healthy economy are not mutually exclusive, and more research funding for aquatic ecology and toxicology. Some of the exciting things to watch for in my field are more government-business partnerships and government-citizen partnerships to prevent and control pollution, as well as more regional and international cooperation on these issues. I also envision more women starting their own successful environmental
What values are the most important to you and what do you
value in others? How do
you prioritize these values in your daily life?
My top values are making a positive difference/giving back to
society, aiming for excellence in the aspects of my life that are important to me, empowering/supporting other women, balancing my professional and personal lives, enjoying my life, not sweating the small stuff, and treating other people kindly as the unique human beings that they are. I am drawn to people who share similar values.
I prioritize these values in my daily life in the following
ways. First, the paid work that I do as an aquatic ecologist and the volunteer work that I do as an active member of the
Association for Women in Science (serving on the National
Board, mentoring, etc.) support my desire to make a positive difference and to empower other women. I have identified the areas of my life that are important to me (my career, marriage, friendships,
and community activities) and those that are not (e.g., having a
spotless house) and apportion my time and energy accordingly. I consciously carve out blocks of time for my high priorities. I do not try to be Superwoman and do it all myself. Setting aside time
for fun activities each day is important to me and I am a
strong believer in vacations. If I start to get stressed out over something, I try to put it in perspective in the big picture of my life.
What do you think are the most important character traits
to develop in order to
In my view, the most important character traits to develop in
order to succeed professionally in my field and in other science and technology fields are persistence, goal-setting, willingness to take risks, openness to new ideas, intellectual curiosity, hard work, and valuing interpersonal communication skills.
Who is your hero, mentor or person you most admire and why?
I am fortunate to have had many mentors and supportive people
in my life as well as heroes whom I have never met but whose lives have inspired and instructed me. It is difficult to select the person whom I admire the most, so I will introduce you to my short
list of three.
One of my earliest heroes was my father Dr. Leon Solomon.
Stricken with polio at the age of two, he had to wear a brace on his paralyzed leg for the remainder of his life in order to be able to walk. He grew up and made his way in the world during a period of insensitivity to physical disabilities. In fact the operative word was cripple. Nevertheless he was always an optimist, never regarded himself as a cripple and engaged in the same
activities as his peers including participation on a softball
team (he would bat and someone else would run the bases for him). He received a college education, earned an honorable
living as an optometrist, and was a wonderful husband and
father. During my childhood and adolescence, he reinforced that I was an intelligent person with talents to contribute to
the world and that these are positive traits for females (he
also told me that I was pretty, which was helpful during the awkward years of adolescence). He encouraged and expected high academic achievement from me throughout my school years and supported
my non-traditional career choice. In summary, he honored the
intellectual high achiever in me, honored the woman in me, and communicated that these were not mutually exclusive.
When I was in graduate school, one of my mentors was Dr. Frieda
Taub, a professor on my dissertation advisory committee. At that time, Dr. Taub was the first and only woman on the faculty of the University of Washington College of Fisheries (I am happy to report
that she now has female colleagues). Dr. Taub received her
Ph.D. in the 1950s when few women were attending graduate school, especially in the sciences, or aspiring to professional careers. She is a highly regarded teacher, a research scientist of international
renown, has been happily married for over 40 years, and has
raised three children. Knowing someone who looked like me and who was doing work similar to the work that I aspired to do made a big difference to me. I figured that if Frieda could become a scientist
in the 1950s, I could become a scientist in the 1970s. Frieda had high
expectations for me (and the other women graduate students) and
I worked hard to meet these expectations. We also had many enlightening
woman-to-woman conversations where she shared valuable advice on how to present a paper, interact at a professional conference, take ownership of my research, and assert my professional identity.
In the early years of my career, I was fortunate to meet Lee Dorigan who is also an environmental biologist. Lee and I worked together on an interagency committee that was developing a cleanup plan for Lake Union in Seattle; later on in our careers we worked for the same agency. Lee showed me the ropes, introduced me to other people who were supportive of my career and was always there for me when I needed advice and a self-confidence boost. In addition to her professional accomplishments, I admire Lee because she completed college while raising two children as a single parent, then obtained her Master's degree while working full-time and raising her family. Lee exemplifies successful balancing of professional and personal lives and meeting life's challenges with courage and zest.
What is your favorite book and why?
I have many favorites books. I especially like biographies and
autobiographies of women engaged in nontraditional pursuits or in activities aimed at improving the status of women. One of my recent favorites is "Life on the Line", the autobiography of Faye Wattleton. I was enthralled with Ms. Wattleton's account of growing up in a poor but loving black
family in the rural South in the 1940s, her fulfilled
aspiration to become a nurse-midwife, and her 14 years at the helm of Planned Parenthood which she transformed into a proactive women's reproductive rights organization. The book contained inspirational
accounts of Ms. Wattleton's courage in remaining true to her
values despite significant opposition from outside and within Planned Parenthood. It was fun to read about political rallies in which I had participated. There were also many poignant evocations of the
connections that Ms. Wattleton felt to both her mother and her
daughter including a very
moving "open letter to my daughter". By the time I finished
reading the book, I felt well-acquainted with all the main characters.
What book would you recommend to someone who knows nothing
about your field
or industry but would like to know more about it?
I would recommend "The Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson. Although
this book was published in the early 1960s, its message is still relevant
today. Ms. Carson was an environmental biologist before the field became established. Her book implicated pesticides in the thinning of bird eggshells and the resulting decreased hatching success and warned of a silent spring (i.e., no birds) if pesticide usage remained unchecked. At
the time many people discounted her ideas as extreme, but her
ideas are now recognized as prescient warnings that toxic chemicals introduced into the web of life will have far-reaching ecosystem impacts.
What are your future goals?
Professionally, I want to continue to make a positive difference in protecting water quality and aquatic resources in the Pacific Northwest (and elsewhere). It is important to me to continue to learn and grow professionally. I want to expand my expertise in stream and
wetland ecology. I see myself contributing my ecological
expertise to nonprofit organizations and citizen groups, as well as doing
international consulting. I want to do more writing and educating on aquatic ecology issues, especially reaching out to people who are not aquatic ecologists to increase their comprehension of the field and empower them to make changes in their lives that will benefit the aquatic environment.
Continued empowerment of women in science is an important goal
for me. This will be accomplished through continued active involvement in A.W.I.S. at the national and local levels and serving on the boards of other professional organizations in my field of work.
Finally, maintaining a high level of physical fitness is an ongoing goal. I like to set physical fitness challenges for myself. My goal for this summer is to backpack around Mt. Rainier National Park on the 90 mile Wonderland Trail. This will involve approximately two weeks of backpacking and a cumulative elevation gain of 20,000 feet.
What do you do to relax?
I enjoy outdoor activities such as bicycling, hiking, backpacking, and cross-country skiing. I also love to travel, both in the U.S. and abroad. Often, I
combine these two sets of interests by exploring places on bicycle. My husband and I have bicycled together in Hawaii, the U.S. Pacific Coast, China, New Zealand, Fiji, Mexico, France, Costa Rica, Tahiti, Portugal, Sicily, and Jamaica. Other relaxing activities for me are theatre, music, reading, yoga, and meditation as well as spending time with my husband and friends.