After Reading "Lab Girl"

I was generously gifted Lab Girl by Hope Jahren through Jane Kim in her last week at OfficeLuv. I finished it today, after about a month.

I loved the rhythm of this book: chapters alternated between her memories and thoughtful paths into botanical research. I love connections between a life experience and scientific themes or analogies. I loved the author’s tone and her wit; I wanted to meet her more with each section. I loved the way it would cause me to drift my eyes off the page in thought after reading a scientific explanation and would glue my eyes to the page through a teaching experience.

The author and her partner Bill continuously reminded me of my uncle, Tom and his teaching partner (basically my aunt), Karen. They were my scientific teachers during my childhood and high school years, taking me (and my friends) on camping trips, mud-treks, and surgical tours. They had a similarly complex and intimate career together and taught me more than I probably realize.

I bookmarked more passages toward the beginning of the book, as I think the ideas meshed into a better arc that tapered off as the story passed into later years.

Bookmarked Passages

Working in the hospital teaches you that there are only two kinds of people in the world: the sick and the not sick. If you are not sick, shut up and help. Twenty-five years later, I still cannot reject this as an inaccurate worldview.

I also worked in a hospital and in ambulances. I also cannot disagree with this feeling.

Full-blown mania lets you see the other side of death. Its onset is profoundly visceral and unexpected, no matter how many times you’ve been through it. It is your body that fist sense the urgency of a new world about to bloom. […] Nothing, nothing can be loud enough or bright enough or move fast enough. […] Your raised arms are the fleshy petals of a magnificent lily bursting into flower. It deeply dawns on you that this new world about to bloom is you.

I read the chapters describing her mania twice over because it felt so good.

It is also no uncommon for scientists to work out their personal issues under the guise of making an evaluation, and I was receiving feedback along the lines of “this reviewer is dismayed to find that the investigator’s apparent capabilities were deemed sufficient to merit a graduate degree from the very same institution that produced his own credentials,” and other useless venom.

The scientific are not any more immune to stupidity, bigotry, and prejudice.