His candor and love for science transform the ensuing story into a portrait of a singular personality that was shaped by his status as an outsider.—Science—
Stanford neuroscientist Barres’s short, somewhat formal but sincere autobiography, written in the 21 months between his cancer diagnosis and his death in 2017… Barres is profoundly appreciative of both his academic mentors and his trainees, and his prose is matter-of-fact; his activist fire comes through in the very fond introduction by colleague Nancy Hopkins, in which she shares bits of his vitriolic letters to conferences that refused to invite women speakers or create anti-sexual harassment policies. This is a brief, intriguing snapshot of a life cut short.
The book is important for anyone in the trans or scientific community. There aren’t many narratives of trans people before 2000 and Barres work in STEM provides a powerful testament to dedication and perseverance… Barres’ autobiography cements his exceptional legacy – a high-profile scientist who, as another MIT neuroscientist put it, became ‘a role model for role models.’
An unstoppable force of nature, unfazed by headwinds, managing to will all of us onwards and upwards: this was Ben Barres. A highly influential neurobiologist and advocate for women in science, Barres lived an unusually interesting life. He was an openly transgender faculty member at Stanford University School of Medicine in California, and a pioneer in understanding the functions of glia — the most abundant and mysterious cells in the brain. Whether by design or accident, along the way he also became a hero for people from gender and sexual minorities (LGBT+ people), and for early-career scientists generally.
Barres is as open in memoir as he was in life, and the book teaches important, deceptively simple lessons. Be yourself; be happy; don’t apologize for who you are. Be respectful, but be honest and express your opinion even (or especially) if it’s not popular. Science is exhilarating, and we have a responsibility to do it well, with fairness to all involved. The Autobiography of a Transgender Scientist shows the way.
His autobiography will make you laugh, cry, and appreciate the underdogs of the brain….Many scientists–LGBT and otherwise–will find his candid depiction of both his own life and scientific journey to be wholly inspiring.
Having inhabited both gender roles, Barres brings singular perspective to the question of how to create an even playing field for female and transgender scientists.