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On The Bookshelf: Unrooted, a fascinating 'botany memoir'

Erin Zimmerman will also be at The Bookshelf May 25 for a reading and book signing

Biologist Erin Zimmerman has peered into a microscope for thousands of hours. Perhaps this is the reason that her observations about science, academia, and gender are so astute.

She gathers data, observes, and because she is rooted in both her science and her gender, draws conclusions that are more political and humane than one might read in other biological texts.

Initially, she loved everything about her chosen path. Although not everyone is suited for the rigours of field work, she signed up and did her best. But it was in the lab where her mind and soul flourished. She collected, she described, and she classified, feeling a part of the monumental task of building foundational knowledge.

The further that she progressed up the ladder of academia, the more Erin, who did her undergraduate degree at University of Guelph, realized that research funding usually migrated to short term experimental work, not the slow observational study which she had come to love. Getting funding is crucial to all projects and in looking into the future, she saw that this would be a constant source of stress.  At this point in history, biology is not the sexy thing that it used to be. Botany departments have been folded into other specialties.

But there was another problem looming. When Erin became pregnant she quickly experienced the negative vibes, from her coworkers and research supervisor. Pregnancy leave slows the team’s work down. When she came back she felt the pressures of managing motherhood and career. The description of trying to pump milk at work can serve as a metaphor for this bifurcation of the soul of mother and scientist. After a year Erin realized that she had to leave academia. This difficult decision gave her the perspective and time to be able to write Unrooted and she now calls herself a biologist and science writer.

For me though, this shift is certainly a gift.

She has so much knowledge to impart, particularly about the evolutionary history of many species. But there are also human congruences. In her section on Further Readings, she mentions Herbarium by Barbara Thiers. I was reading this book before I started Unrooted!

She gives thanks to the late Usher Posluszny, her professor at U o G, who was also a great friend of The Bookshelf. And we are both fans of Darwin (although we understand some of his blind spots)!

I’m looking forward to meeting her when she will be at The Bookshelf, Saturday May 25 at 2 p.m. for a reading and book signing. 


Barb Minett

About the Author: Barb Minett

Barb Minett is a lifelong lover of books, longtime Guelph Resident and co-founder of The Bookshelf at 42 Quebec Str.
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