SAU Buzz

Hannah Reads Books: Lab Girl

by Hannah Blaser
Posted on Apr 27, 2017

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Standout Quote:

“I have been told that I am intelligent, and I have been told that I am simple-minded. I have been told that I am trying to do too much, and I have been told that what I have done amounts to very little. I have been told that I can’t do what I want to do because I am a woman, and I have been told that I have only been allowed to do what I have done because I am a woman. I have been told that I can have eternal life, and I have been told that I will burn myself out into an early death. I have been admonished for being too feminine and I have been distrusted for being too masculine. I have been warmed that I am far too sensitive and I have been accused of being heartlessly callous. But I was told all of these things by people who can’t understand the present or see the future any better than I can” (277).


In Lab Girl, Jahren takes the reader on the journey of her life, beginning with some of her earliest memories as a quiet girl in Minnesota with distant parents, and ending with her working in her lab in Hawaii in 2016. Along the way, Jahren introduces characters such as her best, and only, friend Bill.  Bill becomes a central character in Jahren’s book, as well as her life.

Jahren secures a scholarship to the University of Minnesota and eventually gets her PhD from Berkeley. It is there that she meets Bill, an undergrad. Upon graduating, Jahren gets a job offer in Georgia, and her and Bill pack up. Things are seldom easy for the pair though. Their labs are always severely underfunded, she struggles to find the money to pay Bill a minimum wage salary, and they are constantly under pressure to make some sort of discovery to get grants.


Aside from the financial pressures of her profession, Jahren also deals with anxiety and depression that increases when she becomes pregnant. She illustrates these illnesses with honesty, never sugar-coating how she felt or acted in those moments, nor how hard it was for her to admit she needed help and medication.

Lab Girl incorporates so many elements of the creative nonfiction genre: it is simultaneously research-based, nature writing and a true memoir, while also tackling hard issues like depression, anxiety and sexual discrimination in the workplace. Jahren doesn’t shy away from the difficult topics; she tackles them head on. It is with this intricate weaving of difficult topics and beautiful nature writing and fascinating science writing that Jahren captures hearts and minds throughout the entirety of Lab Girl.

Rating 5/5