Although I have always had a strong interest in science, my focus on social behavior grew out of an educational setting. Both of my moms worked in schools, so starting at a young age, I volunteered in schools for students with learning and developmental differences. The students had a wide variety of attentional and learning challenges, but I saw a clear pattern: despite other special needs, those kids who could interact socially with other students and adults had a particular advantage. Social skills are highly valued and valuable in human societies, and I began to wonder about the origins of these social differences. Why can some individuals navigate the social landscape better than others?
The importance of social behavior and social interactions is not unique to humans, and this question continues to guide my research today.
My first research experience (2006) was as an undergraduate intern at James Cook University (Townsville, Australia) during a study abroad semester with the School for International Training. My project was about understanding the neuroendocrine basis of sex change – fish can actually change from female to male! – in the cylindrical sandperch (Parapercis cylindrica). My interest in research was immediately sparked! At Vassar College, my home undergraduate institution, I pursued my developing interest in research with Dr. Erica Crespi (2007-2008) studying neuroendocrinology and life history transitions in wood frog tadpoles and frogs (Rana sylvatica), redback salamanders (Plethodon cinereus), bluebanded gobies (Lythrypnus dalli), and African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis). Vassar’s Undergraduate Research Summer Institute supported my research during summer 2007 at Vassar and summer 2008 at the Mountain Lake Biological Station (University of Virginia field station, Pembroke, VA). After graduating from college, I taught marine science for two seasons at the Newfound Harbor Marine Institute (Big Pine Key, FL) to visiting groups of 4th – 12th graders. I then completed my Ph.D. with Dr. Matthew Grober at Georgia State University (2009-2014). Incidentally, it was Grober Lab research that served as the basis for my first research project at James Cook University with then-doctoral student Dr. Ashley Frisch! My doctoral research focused on the social, neuroendocrine, and reproductive causes and consequences of individual variation in social behavior in the bluebanded goby (Lythrypnus dalli), a highly social, sex changing fish. My field research was conducted at the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies (University of Southern California field station, Catalina Island, CA). I completed my postdoctoral research in Dr. Hans Hofmann’s laboratory (2015-2018) in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of Texas at Austin. My research investigated the neuromolecular mechanisms by which early-life social experiences affects social behavior in the highly social cichlid fish, Burton’s Mouthbrooder (Astatotilapia burtoni). The Solomon-Lane Lab continues to investigate these questions (and more!) in the Keck Science Department (Claremont McKenna, Pitzer, and Scripps Colleges).
Select research photos & video
(Left to right) Measuring humidity at a redback salamander nest; salamander eggs suspended from the underside of a rock; redback salamander mom with her eggs in the lab; measuring a salamander hatchling in the field; redback salamander mom with her hatchlings. Mountain Lake Biological Station
Teaching at the Newfound Harbor Marine Institute (Florida Keys)
Note: student faces have been blurred out of respect for privacy
Preparing for a squid dissection at the Newfound Harbor Marine Institute (Big Pine Key, FL) by making a list of student-generated questions to answer.
Teaching about coral ecology and biology before the students snorkel (Newfound Harbor Marine Institute).
Using Play-Doh coral polyps to demonstrate how neighboring corals interact (Newfound Harbor Marine Institute).
(Left to right) Bluebanded goby habitat on Catalina Island, CA rocky reefs; gobies in the lab; juvenile gonad with developing eggs and sperm; male and female spawning in the lab; newly laid (top) and eyed eggs (bottom).
In my final field seasons on Catalina Island (2013, 2014), I led research teams of undergraduate women from Agnes Scott College (Decatur, GA). In 2013, I also mentored an NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates student. See them in action!
Catalina Field Crew 2014: (Left to right) Megan Williams and me diving at Catalina Island, CA; Alma Thomas and Megan Williams forming bluebanded goby social groups; Cierra Lockhart process gobies for social groups; Alyssa Millikin observing social behavior.
Take a look at social behavioral interactions and reproduction in bluebanded goby social groups!