Spotlight on Science Writers: Hope Jahren

Image - spotlight150.pngA select group of authors who have won or been finalists for the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books have been invited to write or record an introduction to one of their books. We have suggested a few guidelines, but the format and content have been chosen by each author and will be appropriate for their book's intended audience. Science NetLinks will include related classroom resources appropriate for students and educators at the end of each Spotlight on Science Writers post. You can read all the posts in this series here.

Image - LabGirl-cover.jpgHope Jahren on Lab Girl:

My book, Lab Girl, is about my experiences as a scientist, starting from when I was a very little girl—just four or five years old in my father’s laboratory. My father was a teacher at a community college—he taught physics and chemistry and earth science—and in the evenings he would go to his lab to maintain the equipment and set up for the next day’s experiments and demonstrations. He would always take me and my brothers with him, and there we learned to love science by “playing” with the materials. It was there I also learned to love being in the laboratory and to regard it as home, and where I formed my own strong desire to have a laboratory and to do experiments and make new discoveries.  

The book also tells about how I got interested in my subject matter—plants—and why I love to study them: they are so different than we are, and yet they are such a successful life form on planet Earth. So many mysteries there!

Most importantly, the book tells the story of how I met my best friend, who has come to be my work-partner in the laboratory. It tells about all the experiments that we’ve done together, but also about how we’ve supported each other, and accepted each other despite our imperfections. My book is unusual because it emphasizes how that mutual acceptance has become a powerful driver within both our lives, leading us to things we would never have achieved otherwise.

If you are interested in science, my advice to you is to Enjoy It! Have fun with it, and then afterwards, think very carefully about the fun: Why do you like it? Which parts do you like? What parts are harder? Then do some experiments: If I do this, will it lead to something fun? How can I make this more fun?

Getting in touch with what you like about science—what feels good—is important, because you need to be sure to keep doing that good part—the part you like, whether it is fixing a machine so it works, or looking at something close up, or solving a math problem, or getting a plant to grow—you need to hang on to that fun part, because that’s what will get you through the harder parts, the tougher moments. Practicing that fun part and getting better and better at it will become “home”—and doing that familiar homey bit is how you can always remind yourself that you belong in science.

Hope Jahren has received three Fulbright Awards in geobiology and is one of four scientists, and the only woman, to have been awarded both of the Young Investigator Medals given in the earth sciences. Named by Popular Science in 2005 as one of the "Brilliant 10" young scientists and by Time magazine as one of their "100 Most Influential People," she has taught and pursued independent research at universities around the world. She is currently the Wilson Professor at the Center for Earth Evolution and Dynamics at the University of Oslo.

Her book, Lab Girl, won the 2017 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books in the Young Adult category.

Photo Credit: Jon Shireman.

Going Further

Related Educator Resources

    • Science NetLinks has a lesson to accompany this book.
    • Penguin Random House offers a reader's guide to accompany the book.
    • The Wild Trees lesson uses a book to explore the giant redwood trees of the redwood forests.
    • Grassland Plants: Plant Identification offers a guide on how to use plant structures to identify plants.
    • Grassland Plants: Plant Classification provides students with an opportunity to explore how plant structures can be used to build phylogenetic trees, a skill important in the taxonomy and natural history disciplines.
    • One of the things Hope talks about in her memoir are her struggles with anxiety and manic depression. Science NetLinks has three lessons on mental health that may be useful if you want to pursue that topic: Human Behavior, Bedlam, and Mental Health through Literature.
    • Geobiology is a relatively new science field that deals with the interactions between the physical world and the life that exists on it, also known as the biosphere. Geobiology, the journal of note in the field, makes some of its articles available for free. Some students may find the field of interest.


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