Hope Jahren wrote the delightful book, Lab Girl, a heart-felt tour of her life in science. The book follows her adventures in her lab and around the world, including some of the struggles associated with being a world-class scientist and explorer.
One paragraph really stood out for me as deeply familiar:
I’m good at science because I’m not good at listening. 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’m 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 to masculine. I have been warned 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. Such recurrent pronouncements have forced me to accept that because I am a female scientist, nobody knows what the hell I am, and it has given me the delicious freedom to make it up as I go along. I don’t take advice from my colleagues, and I try not to give it. When I am pressed, I resort to these two sentences: You shouldn’t take this job too seriously. Except for when you should.
(from Lab Girl, p 277)
Judgments can be fast and harsh, but they’re someone else’s perspective. “Nobody knows what the hell I am, and it has given me the delicious freedom to make it up as I go along” is terrifically wise and insightful. It’s the path of a LOT of women, and the kind of vision that we’ll need going forward in our ever-changing world.
If you’re a podcast fan, there’s a great interview with Hope on People Behind the Science.