cover image A Lab of One’s Own: One Woman’s Personal Journey Through Sexism in Science

A Lab of One’s Own: One Woman’s Personal Journey Through Sexism in Science

Rita Colwell, with Sharon Bertsch McGrayne. Simon & Schuster, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-150118127-6

Colwell (Vibrio Ecology, Pathogenesis and Evolution), first female director of the National Science Foundation, delivers a well-intentioned but disappointing career memoir. She describes facing institutional sexism as a student in the 1960s and how, despite it, she amassed an impressive resume in academe, government, and the private sector. Some of her experiences make for potentially enjoyable stories, such as the research she conducted into cholera transmission at a remote research station in Bangladesh in 1976, which resulted in her developing “new theories about how contagious diseases propagate, how weather patterns and climate change can affect them, and how space satellites can predict epidemics.” Elsewhere, she describes how, as a member of the CIA’s Intelligence Science Board during the ’90s, she urged fellow board members to take the threat of bioterrorism seriously, a warning that proved prescient when anthrax-laced letters were delivered throughout the country in 2001. Unfortunately, these and other triumphs are rendered in a stilted writing style, and Colwell’s undeniably impressive track record is marred by excess self-praise. Young women considering careers in science may profit from reading about her experiences, but other readers need not apply. (Aug.)