Jahren has built three laboratories in which she's studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. She tells about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom's labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and the disappointments, triumphs and exhilarating discoveries of scientific work. Yet at the core of this book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend. Their sometimes rogue adventures in science take them over the Atlantic to the ever-light skies of the North Pole and to tropical Hawaii, where she and her lab currently make their home.An illuminating debut memoir of a woman in science; a moving portrait of a longtime friendship; and a stunningly fresh look at plants that will forever change how you see the natural world. Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories in which she's studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Her first book is a revelatory treatise on plant life but it is also so much more. "Lab Girl" is a book about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together. It is told through Jahren's remarkable stories: about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom's labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and learned to perform lab work done with both the heart and the hands; and about the inevitable disappointments, but also the triumphs and exhilarating discoveries, of scientific work. Yet at the core of this book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with a brilliant, wounded man named Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend. Their sometimes rogue adventures in science take them from the Midwest across the United States and back again, over the Atlantic to the ever-light skies of the North Pole and to tropical Hawaii, where she and her lab currently make their home. Jahren's probing look at plants, her astonishing tenacity of spirit, and her acute insights on nature enliven every page of this extraordinary book. "Lab Girl" opens your eyes to the beautiful, sophisticated mechanisms within every leaf, blade of grass, and flower petal. Here is an eloquent demonstration of what can happen when you find the stamina, passion, and sense of sacrifice needed to make a life out of what you truly love, as you discover along the way the person you were meant to be. -- Publisher description.
What I liked. I liked the part about the plants and the science and how she "asks the questions" that lead to the research and the description of the difficulties of academia. Her lab partner was also eccentric. Pretty weird guy with great parents. I didn't get that either. And why didn't he complete his degrees. Usually colleges would have had some program for tuition of employees of the college. It's an easy read, entertaining and informative.
Loved this quote, "Oh, I'm not worried about him," returned Bill. "He's gone (his father). It's not any more complicated than that. Honestly, if I admit it, it's me that I feel bad for." Really, that is what grief is.
I also liked this; "We had them growing sweet potatoes under the greenhouse gas levels predicted for the next several years, the levels that we're likely to see if we, as a society, do nothing about carbon emissions. The potatoes grew bigger as carbon dioxide increased. this was not a surprise. We also saw that these big potatoes were less nutritious, much lower in protein content, no matter how much fertilizer we gave them."
And the final word; plant a tree every year.
Hope grew up in Minnesota, born to Scandinavian parents who were emotionally distant. Her father taught science at a community college and Hope (and her brothers) spent quite a bit of time in his lab while he was working. Perhaps this is what kindled her interest in science; she certainly never seemed to doubt that her field would be some branch of science. She must have been a prodigy since she obtained a cum laude Bacherlor's degree at the age of 21 and was accepted to University of California, Berkeley where she obtained her Ph.D 5 years later. While at Berkeley she met Bill Hagopian, another science student, who would become her friend and lab supervisor for all her subsequent work. They would pull all-nighters to get projects done and laugh and joke continuously. Bill was able to fix anything, a valuable trait when funds were scarce. Jahren worked first at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Although her salary was paid by the institute, the funds to run the lab and pay Bill had to come from grants. In the early days, before Jahren had established a reputation, grant funding was hard to obtain. At one point Bill was living out of his vehicle and when he couldn't do that anymore he lived in a room in the lab. After three years Jahren moved to John Hopkins University in Baltimore and Bill moved along with her. Despite the close nature of their relationship it never became a romance and in Baltimore Jahren met the man she would marry, Clint Conrad. An offer from the University of Hawaii convinced her to move her lab there primarily because it offered more stability for Bill. Jahren and Conrad had a son in Hawaii but the pregnancy was a time of anxiety because she had no good example to follow to learn how to parent She also was diagnosed with manic depression prior to becoming pregnant and had to go off all her medication while she was pregnant. Once her son was born Jahren seemed to become less manic, less anxious and she talks about her son and her husband with great love. Her work is still her passion and probably always will be but it is nice to see that she can enjoy other segments of her life.
Jahren is a dedicated, inspiring, and talented individual, and her passion for what she does seeps through the pages. I admire her deep reverence for the natural world and her insatiable curiosity. I also appreciate her honesty in talking about her struggles with manic depression and all the doubts and setbacks she experienced along the way.
Jahren writes a lot about Bill, her lab partner and best friend. They work together, travel together, and have done so for years, all while Jahren is happily married. I found their relationship intriguing, and like that it doesn't really fit neatly into any box. They obviously care about each other and that is what matters.
On a side note, I just read an interesting article about Jahren taking over Seventeen Magazine's #ManicureMonday, which encourages people to post pictures of their manicures and nail art. Jahren instead encouraged people to post pictures of their hands doing things, manicured nails or not. Hoping to remind girls and women that what you do with your hands is just as beautiful as what they look like, the twitter feed totally changed, and the next Monday instead of manicured nails, the feed was full of women's hands taking samples from plants, holding test tubes and fossils, and doing other science things. I liked that.
So, I recommend this for readers with an interest in the subject – a young woman's early years and career as a scientist – with a couple reservations. First, there is a lot about Jahren's struggles, both with coming to terms with her distant mother, and with serious mental illness. Second, her literary references, in the early part of the book, struck me irritatingly as forced and pretentious, and her editor would have done well to suggest that she take a second look at the ending of Great Expectations, which I think she does not remember as well as she imagines. Still, I think that the strengths of the book outweigh these weaknesses (and for many readers my first complaint may actually add interest, it just wasn't something I enjoyed), and Jahren beautifully conveys the excitement and wonder that have inspired her to devote herself to a life of scientific investigation.
I absolutely hated reading about the gorilla in a roadside zoo-type attraction. I hate that the author went there. I hate that animals live decades in misery for our entertainment and the owners' profits.
It seems that every time I read a memoir lately, it is about someone with mental health issues, someone who needs medication. While I am happy that the medication is helping, reading about it gets tiresome. I wanted to read about plants and the science thereof, and I got too much very personal information.
Still, this was an interesting book. But my heart breaks for that gorilla and the others like him.
I borrowed this audio edition from my local library.
In Lab Girl, she talks about various aspects of her life and her career: growing up in a family who seldom spoke to each other; the painstaking care with which she goes about doing science and the careless neglect that seems to have characterized much of her personal life; the struggles of scientists to get funding and her particular difficulties as a woman in science; her struggles with bipolar disorder; her somewhat strange but very deep connection with her lab assistant/bff; her love of plants; and the ways in which she has grown in her life.
She intersperses all of these personal musings with short, sometimes rather poetic descriptions of how plants grow and survive and reproduce. These chapters generally reflect in a metaphorical fashion on things in her own life, but she never pushes that so far it starts to feel artificial or cute. And they're kind of fascinating. I know they got me thinking in slightly new ways about the trees I pass every day on my way to work, almost without seeing them.
The writing is good, but a little odd, in a hard-to-describe way. It somehow feels simultaneously intimate and distancing, but maybe that's appropriate, because it very much reflects the sense you get of the author and her self-image. She does come across as a bit of a weird person (and her aforementioned research partner/best buddy even more so), but in an interesting way. Sometimes she made me laugh -- she and the people she surrounds herself with seem to be masters of expressing affection via humorous shit-talking -- and sometimes she made me roll my eyes at her a little -- seriously, lady, you should not need to experience a bad accident to know you should wear a seat belt! -- but she's definitely not boring. Even if she does capture very well the un-glamous tedium that is such a large part of scientific research and so seldom acknowledged.
I was blown away by the clarity of her writing, her passion, her vulnerability all of which shone through in this book. Her honesty with her doubts, mistakes and the hard work that this type of career entails. This is a book to reread there is so much information in it about the nature we see out of our windows and take for granted. She showed me a whole different way of looking at these things. Simple wonderful.
ARC from publisher.
Chapters alternate between amazing stories of plants and her journey as a scientist.
We see her pursuit of her studies and the difficulties and adventures in establishing a lab of her own as she fights for lab space and funding.
It's also a story of a unique friendship as we see her relationship with her lab assistant Bill, also a dedicated researcher as well as a staunch supporter of her work.
And finally, it's a story of her not just living with, but triumphing over her bipolar disorder. She shares her absolutely manic work hours as well as some details of her incredibly brutal pregnancy where she chose so go without medication until the third trimester in order to protect her unborn son.
She weaves these subjects into one really fine whole, and although my review may seem choppy with all the subjects she manages to work in, the book certainly isn't.
Highly recommended; especially for those with interests in plants, science, extraordinary women and bipolar disorder.
“Being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life.”
Hope Jahren is a scientist. Her specialty is paleobiology. She also has a strong passion and dedication to trees.
In this terrific memoir, Jahren describes her early life in Minnesota and her growing fascination with nature and the art of discovery. She then discusses her rise through the scientific ranks, with all the various successes and pitfalls, that crop up, along the way. She is currently a professor of geobiology at the University of Hawaii.
Jahren takes the reader through her personal life, dealing with a bipolar disorder and starting a family. She also happens to be a very good writer and she offsets the drier, scientific analysis, with clarity and dazzling prose.
Narrative nonfiction has really been shining, these past few years and I can gladly add Lab Girl, to the mix.
I was interested in the topic of the book as so much is now written about women not being interested in a career in science (as much as men). I think there is a lack of interest in science, math, engineering for American students, sadly. I worked in a career in computers, doing programming and system administration and this same situation exists for women. I thought I would maybe recognize some of what is said about the situation.
I really did not relate to much to what happened to Hope Jahren. She is so dedicated to her career that it did not seem that much else mattered. She was a out and out work addict and this caused her much anxiety when at the end of the book she includes her experience with husband and child. If I owned my own business I could have understood this at a different level than I did. After I read this book, I realize that working in science and owning your own lab is only for the most dedicated person and Hope Jahren is one of those people.
It was an interesting read, but a little different than what I expected. I will recommend this book to others. I originally bought it for my daughter who works in a diagnostic lab at cornell university. (She is too busy to read it! I should have expected that is the case!)
Working in science (and engineer, computers, medicine..) is for the dedicated. I hope we can convince more women and more Americans to do this. I am not sure this book will give them the incentive... they might be scared away from working so hard. I wish Hope could have included some inspirational reasons why she might think others should go into science as she did.... this is outside of her life, I think. Her chapters on nature, science, trees, plants, and botany were the irspirational part. I think she separated these from her life story for a reason. She had to be focused on keeping her Lab going in the right direction. The only person in the book she could relate to at the time was her lab partner as they spent so much time together at work. There we no women friends or colleagues. I believe there were some women students but she did not portray the students in a very flattering light, despite the fact that she was a professor. Teaching was secondary to the Lab.
The author is a very brilliant person and has a great love for science.
Stunning story. It should be read by every high school and college woman who imagines a different life as a female scientist.