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Author Hope Jahren to Discuss UCSB Reads Selection ‘Lab Girl’

From English and creative writing to chemistry and geography, courses across UCSB found learning opportunities in Lab Girl.

Faculty in a range of disciplines (even psychology, materials and linguistics) have incorporated the memoir of a female scientist into their curriculum this year.

Now those scholars, their students and the general public will hear from the author when paleobiologist and writer Hope Jahren visits campus as part of UCSB Reads, which selected Lab Girl for its 2017-18 season.

Free and open to the public, Jahren’s talk will begin at 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 3, in Campbell Hall.

“I found myself discussing the book over lunch with colleagues, randomly in my office hours with students, in a book club and then more formally in class,” said Kathy Foltz, an associate professor in molecular, cellular and developmental biology.

Foltz taught Lab Girl in her leadership course Science for the Common Good.

“In class we discussed a variety of topics, including the experience and challenges of starting out in a science career, personal and professional relationships, and the fascination with a given subject — in Jahren’s case, a love of trees,” Foltz said.

“Regardless of whether one liked the book, it provided a platform to ask questions about and self-reflect on topics that would not necessarily be on a syllabus yet are so valuable to explore,” said Foltz, also interim dean of UCSB’s College of Creative Studies.

The book chronicles Jahren’s coming-of-age experience as a female scientist, juxtaposed against beautifully rendered meditations on the life of plants.

As she “traces her path from an early infatuation with the natural world to her hard-earned accomplishments as a scientist recognized for breakthrough contributions to her field,” Jahren reflects on difficult periods in her life.

Those difficulties range from struggles with mental illness to the financial hardships of starting a research lab, all while celebrating the joys of scientific discovery and friendship.

Now in its 12th year, UCSB Reads is a program of the UCSB Library. Held in partnership with the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor, it engages the campus and Santa Barbara community in conversations about key topics while reading the same book.

A committee comprised of faculty and staff members, administrators and student representatives made this year’s selection.

Jahren’s appearance on campus comes amid four months of UCSB Reads activities, including performances, live readings, panel talks, film screenings, book groups, and exhibits. The public lecture and book signing is the cornerstone event of the series.

Demonstrating the wide appeal of Lab Girl, from the sciences to the humanities, Jahren received both the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography and the American Association for the Advancement of Science/Subaru Books & Film Prize for Excellence in Science Books.

Lab Girl was a finalist for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award, and was named one of the Best Books of the Year by The Washington Post, NPR and Slate.

Currently the J. Tuzo Wilson Professor at the University of Oslo, Norway, Jahren conducts research on living and fossil organisms, studying how they are chemically linked to the global environment.

She received her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley and was a tenured professor at the University of Hawai’i from 2008-16, where she built the Isotope Geobiology Laboratories with support from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health.

She is the recipient of three Fulbright Awards, and is one of four scientists (and the only female) to have been awarded both Young Investigator medals given in the earth sciences.

— Shelly Leachman for UCSB.


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