History of Science & Knowledge

One Step Sideways, Three Steps Forward: One Woman’s Path to Becoming a Biologist

The story of the unorthodox and inspiring life and career of a pioneering biologist


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Jun 4, 2024
21 b/w illus.
History of Science & Knowledge
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Scientist Rosemary Grant’s journey in life has involved detours and sidesteps—not the shortest or the straightest of paths, but one that has led her to the top of evolutionary biology. In this engaging and moving book, Grant tells the story of her life and career—from her childhood love of nature in England’s Lake District to an undergraduate education at the University of Edinburgh through a swerve to Canada and teaching, followed by marriage, children, a PhD at age forty-nine, and her life’s work with Darwin’s finches in the Galápagos islands. Grant’s unorthodox career is one woman’s solution to the problem of combining professional life as a field biologist with raising a family.

Grant describes her youthful interest in fossils, which inspired her to imagine another world, distant yet connected in time—and which anticipated her later work in evolutionary biology. She and her husband, Peter Grant, visited the Galápagos archipelago annually for forty years, tracking the fates of the finches on the small, uninhabited island of Daphne Major. Their work has profoundly altered our understanding of how a group of eighteen species has diversified from a single ancestral species, demonstrating that evolution by natural selection can be observed and interpreted in an entirely natural environment. Grant’s story shows the rewards of following a winding path and the joy of working closely with a partner, sharing ideas, disappointments, and successes.