Book club week 1: prologue

This year for our summer book club, we’re reading Lab Girl by Hope Jahren! Meetings are on Thursdays at noon in CHB 439; you can sign up and find the reading schedule here. At our first meeting, we read the prologue together and discussed our first impressions. Here’s a few notes on what we talked about…

  • Realizing how much we take trees/plants for granted
  • Hope asks the reader to look out their window at man-made things, at a tree, and at a particular leaf. Here’s the awesome view from our window in CHB 439:


  • The idea that being a scientist means asking questions, not knowing math (physics, chemistry, whatever). How can we emphasize this in science education?
    • Motivating students to actually want to learn about science (rather than just get a grade in a class) is a challenge
    • Standardizing the curriculum and grading is also a challenge, especially in a big program like UW’s gen chem
    • The purpose of lab courses is often to teach techniques and provide hands-on demonstrations of concepts rather than helping students learn to ask questions or figure things out.
    • More exposure to current research topics and the role of science in our everyday lives, in addition to the topics/techniques taught in classes, could be useful. Professors and grad students could give research talks (or talks on other science topics) to undergrad classes, with emphasis on telling a story about how they figured something out rather than on technical details.


  • Communicating science to a general audience:
    • How do scientists write for a general audience vs. how do non-scientists write about science for a general audience?
    • Reading about current scientific research and scientists in the present, vs. science history
    • We’re looking forward to seeing more about how Hope Jahren explains her science to the reader. Another fun exercise: using the XKCD simple writer to explain your own research using the 1000 most commonly used English words.
    • The end of this section (where Hope tells the reader that they’re a scientist) seems like a great way to draw the reader in and make the science (and the scientist) more accessible.

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