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Publisher's Summary

A “beautifully written” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) memoir-manifesto from the first female director of the National Science Foundation about the entrenched sexism in science, the elaborate detours women have take to bypass the problem, and how to fix the system.

If you think sexism thrives only on Wall Street or Hollywood, you haven’t visited a lab, a science department, a research foundation, or a biotech firm.

Rita Colwell is one of the top scientists in America: the groundbreaking microbiologist who discovered how cholera survives between epidemics and the former head of the National Science Foundation. But when she first applied for a graduate fellowship in bacteriology, she was told, “We don’t waste fellowships on women.” A lack of support from some male superiors would lead her to change her area of study six times before completing her PhD.

A Lab of One’s Own is an “engaging” (Booklist) book that documents all Colwell has seen and heard over her six decades in science, from sexual harassment in the lab to obscure systems blocking women from leading professional organizations or publishing their work. Along the way, she encounters other women pushing back against the status quo, including a group at MIT who revolt when they discover their labs are a fraction of the size of their male colleagues.

Resistance gave female scientists special gifts: Forced to change specialties so many times, they came to see things in a more interdisciplinary way, which turned out to be key to making new discoveries in the 20th and 21st centuries. Colwell would also witness the advances that could be made when men and women worked together — often under her direction, such as when she headed a team that helped to uncover the source of anthrax used in the 2001 letter attacks.

A Lab of One’s Own is “an inspiring read for women embarking on a career or experiencing career challenges” (Library Journal, starred review) that shares the sheer joy a scientist feels when moving toward a breakthrough, and the thrill of uncovering a whole new generation of female pioneers. It is the science book for the #MeToo era, offering an astute diagnosis of how to fix the problem of sexism in science — and a celebration of women pushing back.

©2020 Rita Colwell and Sharon Bertsch McGrayne. All rights reserved. (P)2020 Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

Critic Reviews

"In this, an era of changing climate and sweeping epidemics, we need great scientists more than ever. Yet for generations, women scientists have been under-funded, condescended to, denied jobs and lab space, and robbed of recognition for their discoveries and contributions. Rita Colwell has been a leader in the fight to change all that. You will be riveted by the true story of how she and other women scientists methodically undertook to challenge biases and dismantle barriers, using the classic tools of their discipline: facts, data, measurement, and the persistence to try and try and try yet again." (Liza Mundy, New York Times best-selling author of Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II

"Beautifully written...as much a call to arms as it is autobiography. An unforgettable tell-all that’s rife with details of insurrection, scientific breakthrough, and overcoming the odds." (Kirkus Reviews)

"Narrator Jackie Sanders favors a neutral, informative delivery as she reads this story of sexism in science. Sanders's approach is similar to author Rita Cowell's strategy when dealing with her obstructionist male colleagues - stay calm and avoid channeling melodramatics or anger. Not surprisingly, there is plenty to get angry about - from the denial of Colwell's research fellowship request in 1956 ('We don't waste fellowships on women,' she was told.) - to Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick's 1964 groping of a female Harvard undergraduate. Colwell, the first woman to lead the National Science Foundation, persevered in her career to make historical discoveries relating to cholera and anthrax. Alas, the real tragedy of scientific misogyny is that half the population is effectively prohibited from helping to solve the world's problems." (Winner of an AudioFile Earphones Award, AudioFile magazine) 

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