Lab Girl

Hope Jahren

Lab Girl

What a lovely book. It’s been a long time since I was so captured by a writer’s point of view that I couldn’t put a book down. It’s as achingly honest about her struggles with her desire to do science (although everyone knows that a woman in lab is nothing more that a distraction) as she is about her love for trees.

She reminds me of a career day I once attended where every speaker was a woman scientist. They were all hopeful and positive except one older woman, a physicist, who spoke about the difficulties a woman scientist would face working in a lab, the prejudice she would face, the discounting of her work by the male scientists, and how her achievement would be taken by the male scientists. She ate lunch alone, while we all clustered around the young women scientists. One of my deepest regrets is that I chose not to eat lunch with her. That was some fifty years ago, and Hope Jahren tells me that things haven’t changed that much. She does offer some  hope, though, and shares her own experience maneuvering around the men in her  chosen field, showing that it is possible for a woman to succeed.

In spite of bipolar disorder, Hope is quite successful in her field and has been for years. Her relationship with Bill, her lab partner, matches her personality so exactly that one wonders at her luck in finding a partner so yin to her yang. She has been fortunate in her ability to find the funding she needs to keep herself and him both employed.

I was amazed at how much time serious scientists have to spend on grant writing and trying to get funding so they can do the science they love. They are like freelance musicians, always looking for the next gig to pay the rent.

When she writes about trees, leaves, and seed, the writing comes alive. I kept turning the corners of the pages of the library edition I had borrowed until I gave in and bought a Kindle copy for myself.

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