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19 May 2019, 12:19 HRS IST
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  • PTI
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    • Bookworm
  • Lab Girl: A woman's story of science, sexism and success
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  • Manish Sain
  • G

    aping at a seed almost invisible to the naked eye through a microscope in a cold and quiet lab over several nights does not sound like something an aspiring writer would do.

    But for American geobiologist Hope Jahren, author of 'Lab Girl', this was the routine she followed over and over again - and which finally gave the scientist her own, true identity.

    Her autobiography traces a woman scientist's life from being a curious child in her scientist father's lab to becoming a successful university professor and researcher.

    The book, launched in India recently, has been making waves. It explores the author's personal and career growth parallel to that of a plant, as she fights against gender discrimination.

    Jahren, whose roots are Scandinavian, grew up in the US with three older brothers. One of her earliest realisations about herself, she writes in the book, revolved around the fact that she was a woman in a world dominated by men.

    As a child, she would spend long hours in her father's laboratory. She was five when she thought "whatever I was, it was less than a boy".

    Looking back at those early days, Jahren writes how she spent the day "pretending to be a girl" and transformed into a scientist in the evenings.

    "While I pretended to be a girl I spent my time deftly grooming myself and gossiping with my girlfriends about who liked whom and what if they didn't...But in the late evenings I would accompany my dad to his laboratory, when the building was empty but well lit. There I transformed from a girl into a scientist, just like Peter Parker becoming Spider-Man, only kind of backward," she writes.

    The feeling of being the only woman or being a minority in the scientist fraternity continued to haunt her as she grew up.

    She records episodes where she was told "you can't possibly be what you are".

    "Then I cringed as, one by one, the people to whom I was being introduced sized me up and down, each of them wearing a look with which I was very familiar. It was the look that says, 'Here? That can't be right; there's a mistake here somewhere.'"

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