Tide Bites: A Director's Farewell

Friday Harbor Laboratories Director Billie J. Swalla’s connection with FHL has spanned several decades. She moved to the University of Washington in 1999 as an Assistant Professor for the opportunity to work and teach at FHL. In 2012 she was Acting Director, then became Interim Director and was appointed FHL Director in 2014.

July 1, 2019 marks the end of her 6.5 years at the helm of Friday Harbor Labs. This Tide Bite strays from our traditional format to be a thoughtful reflection by Billie on her time as Director, with a look toward the bright future of FHL.

Friday Harbor Laboratories is known world-wide for the marine research, teaching and community outreach that it has excelled at for the past 115 years. Many young marine scientists take their first marine biology course here and discover their passion, while others come from afar, banking on FHL's reputation as a mecca for marine science. Every summer, our beds fill with 100 students and 100 researchers, and the FHL campus buzzes with activity.

A dedicated and talented staff of 40 manage FHL's flow of visitors, boats and spaces, and there are deep, time-honored traditions. The Invertebrate Ball is put on by the inverts course every summer, and our Dining Hall is transformed for an enchanted evening. Dock jumping is a favorite past-time when the weather is warm, and the Fourth of July celebrations are a wonderful time to mingle with an incredible San Juan Island community. It has been my honor to carry on these traditions, start a few of my own (Tide Bites, participation in the Town's July 4th parade), and I have been privileged to live and work with so many wonderful people in the past twenty years. As I move on to future endeavors, I carry these unique life experiences with me.

FHL at SJI 4th of July parade

2018 FHL scientists, students and families dressed up for the 4th of July parade in Friday Harbor. Bull kelp horns were provided by Dr. Tom Mumford and were a big hit. How does one encapsulate a rich and meaningful experience? Do we list the amount of money made, improvements accomplished, newspaper articles published or scientific papers accepted? Some important decisions can only be appreciated years later and some are made and instantly forgotten amidst the fast pace of academia. I judge my life by the people in it, and this has been a fantastic experience getting to know so many interesting, dedicated and insightful people at FHL, on San Juan Island, in the United States and internationally. I tell my students at all the marine labs we visit: leave your lab space and living quarters better than you found them. Keep up the great traditions, and make new ones!

2014 - 2019 Director FHL – Innovations & Renovations


I collaborated with UW's School of Oceanography and School of Aquatic Fisheries Sciences to establish a new Marine Biology major in 2019 within the College of the Environment at UW. We also created an FHL course prefix for all fall, spring and summer classes for the first time in 110 years! FHL is now listed in UW's course catalogue.

Research & Funding:

We acquired a CT scanner for FHL's Karl S. Liem Imaging Facility in 2015, via extremely generous funding (private and UW) totaling $300,000. This technology has enabled several new grants and at least two Twitter hashtags ( #ScanAllFishes and #ScanAllVertebrates). I strove to increase diversity in the marine sciences through a unique Research Experience for Undergraduates program at the Labs funded by a Blinks endowment, the National Science Foundation and BEACON. I teamed with FHL's Advancement Board to establish fundraising priorities for the UW Campaign, and together we have raised $10,000,000+ in the last seven years. We have worked with the College of the Environment and the UW Provost to create two new term Faculty Fellowships which pay faculty from the UW campus to come to FHL and bring their research and teaching programs with them for three years. We extend our heartfelt thanks to Bill Calvin and Katherine Graubard for their generosity in establishing one of the fellowships. Likewise, we are grateful to Jim Truman and Lynn Riddiford for their foresight in establishing an Endowed Professorship which in the future will hire a UW Biology faculty member to live and do research here at the Labs.

Laurie with the new refrigerator

Laurie Spaulding, FHL's Food Service Manager, stands next to the new walk-in refrigerator and freezer that were installed in the Dining Hall last year, replacing an outdated and failing system.


We worked with UW Central Services and the College of the Environment to secure $770,000 and replace the plumbing which was failing in the lower floor of FHL's Fernald building. We also worked together to secure $750,000, and then worked with the Town of Friday Harbor to replace the sewer lift stations at FHL that were old and likely to fail. I brought our campus into compliance with Health and Safety standards and Chemical Safety within UW Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S). We prepared a fire mitigation plan and secured $80,000 from UW EH&S to execute the work in Fall 2014: trees were trimmed and felled and brush removed to lessen the chance of a forest fire spreading on campus. I developed and executed a plan to bring FHL up to spec with the vehicles that we own with UW Fleet Services. I reorganized FHL staff and worked to establish full-time positions with benefits for all of the part-time staff who wanted them. Community:

I established this “Tide Bite” publication you're reading: a monthly communication of marine research sent to 6,000+ subscribers which is also posted on the FHL website and sent to local newspapers. We coordinated with UW Seattle and the College of the Environment to buy an additional 5.6 acres adjoining FHL near the top of University Road, creating a buffer for our FHL campus. We improved community relationships by contacting the landowners surrounding UW preserves at False Bay and Argyle Creek on San Juan Island and discussing good stewardship of the land and marine habitats on San Juan Island.

Supporters at an FHL Beach Walk

FHL's annual Beach Walk is a time to thank our many supporters, learn about the intertidal algae and animals, and enjoy the beauty of San Juan Island. Left to right: Trish Morse, Laura Long, Rachel Anderson, Billie Swalla and Ruth MacGinitie.

I feel fortunate to have witnessed so many talented students earn their PhDs. A huge congratulations to each and every one of these scholars. They carry out so much of the research that is done at Friday Harbor Labs:

2015 - 2019 Fourteen Fantastic PhDs

2015 Dr. Joe Bizzaro Dr. Adam Summers, advisor

2015 Dr. Stephanie Crofts Dr. Adam Summers, advisor

2015 Dr. Kevin Turner Dr. Ken Sebens, advisor

2015 Dr. Laura Newcomb Dr. Emily Carrington, advisor

2016 Dr. Hilary Hayford Dr. Emily Carrington, advisor

2016 Dr. Rebecca Guenther Dr. Patrick Martone UBC, advisor

2017 Dr. Katie Dobkowski Dr. Jennifer Ruesink, advisor

2017 Dr. Eliza Heery Dr. Ken Sebens, advisor

2017 Dr. Shawn Luttrell Dr. Billie Swalla, advisor

2018 Dr. Derek Smith Dr. Ken Sebens, advisor

2018 Dr. Matt George Dr. Emily Carrington, advisor

2018 Dr. Alex Lowe Dr. Jennifer Ruesink, advisor

2019 Dr. Chris Wells Dr. Ken Sebens, advisor

2019 Dr. Will King Dr. Ken Sebens, advisor

And where would we be without FHL postdocs? They truly personify what is important at FHL: community, research, teaching and mentoring. Congratulations to these talented scientists who have moved on to new positions:

2014 - 2019 Eight Excellent Postdoctoral Fellows

2014-16 Dr. Nick Gidmark

Dr. Adam Summers, advisor

2014-16 Dr. Petra Ditsche

Dr. Adam Summers, advisor

2016-18 Dr. Anne Gothmann

Dr. Alex Gagnon, advisor, JISAO UW

2016-17 Dr. Matt Kolmann

Dr. Adam Summers, advisor

2017-19 Dr. Hilary Hayford

Dr. Emily Carrington, advisor

2018 Dr. Brent Hughes

Dr. Megan Dethier, advisor

2018-19 Dr. Mackenzie Gerringer

Dr. Adam Summers, advisor

2018-19 Dr. Sebastian Kruppert

Dr. Adam Summers, advisor

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