Hope Jahren grew up in the small town of Austin, Minnesota, a hundred miles south of Minneapolis and five miles north of the Iowa border, where her family has been for three generations. Her great grandparents "had come to Minnesota as part of a mass emigration from Norway that began in about 1880," she explains.
Jahren’s father taught physics and earth science for 42 years and had a lab at a local community college, where Jahren and her three older brothers loved to hang out. Though her mother had showed an early aptitude for science, she'd had limited opportunities to pursue it, and instead raised a family, grew a garden, and took correspondence courses in English literature, often discussing the books with her daughter.
She completed her undergraduate education in geology at the University of Minnesota in 1991 while holding a variety of different jobs. "I worked as a proofreader for the university’s press, a secretary to the dean of agriculture, a cameraperson for the long-distance learning program, and a machinist polishing glass slides," she says. "I taught swimming lessons, fetched library books, and ushered rich people to their seats within Northrop Auditorium. But none of it compared with the time I spent working in a hospital pharmacy," an experience she elaborates on in her memoir.
She went on to earn her PhD in 1996 at the University of California-Berkeley in the field of soil science. Shortly after, she moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where she taught geology and geochemistry at Georgia Tech and opened her first lab with the help of her close friend Bill Hagopian. During this time, she struggled with bipolar disorder until she was able to get help and proper medication. In 1999, she and Hagopian moved her lab from Georgia to the basement of the Johns Hopkins University geology department.
Jahren worked at Johns Hopkins University from 1999 to 2008, and then moved to Honolulu where she became a tenured professor at the University of Hawai'i and built the Isotope Geobiology Laboratories. She moved again in 2016 to Norway where she is currently a professor at the University of Oslo's Centre for Earth Evolution and Dynamics and runs her own lab. (Hagopian, her friend and lab partner, has moved with her to each new location.) She has received three Fulbright Awards; is one of four scientists, and the only woman, to have been awarded both of the Young Investigator Medals given in the earth sciences (the Donath and the Macelwane medals); was profiled by Popular Science as one of its "Brilliant 10" scientists; and was named in 2016 by Time magazine as one of the world's "100 Most Influential People."
Jahren published her debut book of creative nonfiction—the memoir Lab Girl (Knopf)—in 2016 to widespread critical acclaim. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography, among other awards, and was named a best book of the year by a number of prominent magazines.
With her memoir now an international bestseller, Jahren has become a strong public advocate for women and girls in science. When Seventeen magazine came up with #ManicureMondays, encouraging girls to post photos of their painted fingernails, Jahren encouraged female scientists of all ages to post photos of their fingers conducting scientific experiments.
Today, one might find Jahren in her lab in Oslo, or writing, or spending time with her husband—Clint Conrad, a fellow scientist—and their son.
From the NEA Big Read website.
In 2016, PBS NewsHour's Jeffrey Brown interviewed Hope Jahren about her research, Lab Girl, and women in science.