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Book review: Jennifer Rohn’s The Honest Look

I was really looking forward to reading The Honest Look for three or four reasons but it turned out to be even more than I bargained for! I am not going to sketch the story line of this book about a young woman, freshly graduated from her doctorate, and also hope the following won’t give too much away…

The novel is lablit, literature set in a scientific lab. Jenny coined that term! Ever since my PhD I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a novel loosely based on my and colleagues’ experiences but just haven’t got the literary talent or drive to have a proper go. Luckily, Jenny does.

The other reason to look forward to it is that the novel is set in my native Holland. I was looking forward to some sharp observations about the Dutch and my expectations were more than met: really good and far from contrite. Jenny describes the experience of living abroad, both trying to fit in with the adopted culture, ex-pat company and socialising with new colleagues.

What may ring more of a bell with other readers here than with me is the experience of moving from academia to a start-up company and the difference between fundamental and science and commercial science is explored. I have never worked in such an environment (Jenny has) and I found the insights fascinating.

For the unexpected treasures: There is some exploration of ethical research conduct as part of the story, which makes you think and a big theme is how your family background influences career choices and especially fathers’ attitudes. The main character has two passions in life, poetry and science. A large part of the book is about balancing the two and whether it is possible to be a successful scientist when some of your time and attention is devoted to anything outside it. Poetry pervades the book: it is beautifully written (which immensely increases the pleasure in reading for me). There’s a decent love story as well- what more could you ask for?

Jenny will be part of the ‘Is there more than one way to success in STEM? panel for the WiSE UP careers day on 22nd June- don’t miss the chance to meet her and purchase a signed copy of this or her other book ‘Experimental Heart’.

Tennie Videler, co-Chair

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