Allen Solomon

From an “Ecologist Directory” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2004-2005. Profile circa 2004.
Degree                                          Ph.D.
Position                                        Senior Global Research Ecologist
Department                                  Office of Research and Development
Organization                                U.S. EPA
Distinguished Service Award for 2003
asolomonWhen did you become interested in ecology?
Although I spent my childhood catching frogs and camping as a Boy Scout, it wasn’t until I was a sophomore pre-dent student at University of Michigan that I began to focus on ecology, specifically. I took a course on the natural history of vertebrates, participated in a number of field exercises, and was hooked.
How did you learn about ecological careers? What is your position title now?
Once I knew the subject of interest, I sought and received considerable direction from faculty and grad students while working on the custodial crew of University of Michigan’s biological station. Additional knowledge came from the courses I took in Ann Arbor, and from spending my off-hours in the library and the field. My position now is Senior Global Research Ecologist, one of about 15 “above GS scale” positions that the U.S. EPA’s Office of Research and Development maintains.
Describe your route to a career in (or using) ecology. What challenges did you need to overcome? What was your training, and what positions have you held?
After choosing a graduate school “at the last minute”, I corrected my error and began again a year later at Rutgers University. That program fit well and I earned my Ph.D. in plant ecology there. When my first professional position didn’t work out, I moved to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which better fit my skills and capabilities. After 11 years there, I spent three years with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Vienna, Austria, where I directed a project in global ecological change. I then headed to the School of Forestry at Michigan Technological University. While there, I professed in forest ecology and biogeography, and helped to develop a research institute to study Lake Superior ecosystems for three years. In 1992, the call of more policy-oriented and applied science led me to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. I have remained there since, save 15 very stimulating months spent as a policy analyst at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (office of the President’s science advisor).
What key advice would you offer a student today?
My best advice is to determine ahead of time what sub-discipline you wish to pursue, then to seek out the best scientists in that field to work with. This applies not only to selecting graduate schools and mentors, but also to forming initial research partnerships.
What advice do you have for communicating ecology to diverse audiences?
Know the interests in common among your audience (why did they show up to hear you?). Stick to presenting only one or two points in the talk that you want the audience to walk away with, and do so by avoiding jargon and complex numerical material. At one conference, I watched a scientist present his best opinion to a congressional committee where he showed several equations and their technical explanations in his first graphic. His presentation had no apparent impact on the committee. The scientist up next talked about the implications of his science to the policy questions the committee was pursuing, and was carefully listened to and thoroughly quizzed. He knew his audience, and talked to their needs.