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Big Read discussion will explore life in the sciences for women

Barry McNamara
MONMOUTH, Ill. – This year’s National Endowment for the Arts’ Big Read program at Monmouth College will focus on a subject near and dear to many Monmouth students and faculty – a career in the sciences, especially for women who want to break into the field.

Monmouth chemistry professors Audra Goach and Laura Moore and professor emeritus Marta Tucker, who taught mathematics and computer science at the College for 35 years, will be the panelists for a discussion inspired by the critically acclaimed book Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.

The discussion – which will feature the three professors discussing how they fell in love with science, critical moments in their career and advice they have for others – will be held through the online platform Zoom at 7 p.m. Monday, May 4.

Reading the book in advance is not required to join the discussion. For instructions on how to join the discussion or to receive a book, email Hewes Library Director Sarah Henderson at Books have been supplied through the Galesburg Public Library, which was the recipient of a 2020 NEA Big Read grant.

An American geochemist, geobiologist and professor, Jahren has spent her life studying trees, flowers, seeds and soil. Lab Girl is her revelatory treatise on plant life, but it is also a celebration of the lifelong curiosity, humility and passion that drive every scientist. Jahren writes of her Minnesota childhood, where she spent hours in unfettered play in her father’s college laboratory. She tells readers how she found a sanctuary in science, learning to perform lab work “with both the heart and the hands.”

The 2016 book was the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography and was named a New York Times Notable Book.

A discussion based on Lab Girl appealed to Henderson for a number of reasons.

“I like the way that she wove her career life and her personal life together in the book,” she said. “The working relationship that she has with one of her colleagues, her lab assistant, was very interesting. For any young woman who is interested in working in the sciences, it provides an interesting picture of it.”

Henderson is excited about the “all-star” cast that will drive the discussion.

“I’ve had chances to work with all three of the ladies on various levels,” she said of Goach, Moore and Tucker. “All of them are very kind, just wonderful with students. To have an opportunity to work with them on a project like this, I just thought was fantastic. I hope that it’s a stepping stone and we can work with them in the future on projects.”

More information on the Monmouth event is available at

Galesburg Public Library events have been postponed, but stay tuned to their page: