Lab Girl

by

Hope Jahren

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Bill Character Analysis

Bill is Hope Jahren’s lab partner and closest friend. The two met when Bill was an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, and Jahren was a graduate student, assisting on a field trip through the Central Valley of California. Bill is a loner, and Jahren would consistently find him on the fringes of the group of students, conducting fieldwork on his own. The smartest student in the class and a tireless worker, Bill was soon hired to work in the lab with Jahren, where they quickly developed an excellent working relationship. Despite their closeness, however, Jahren notes that Bill remained something of a mystery to her for a long time: she did not know where he lived, for example, and when he made vague comments about his childhood, she was left to wonder. Later on, Jahren would meet Bill’s father, an Armenian filmmaker who produced documentaries about the genocide in his homeland, and would learn that a childhood injury to Bill’s hand—resulting in the loss of a finger—left him feeling like an outsider throughout his adolescence. Bill did not attend his senior prom, and somehow Jahren convinced him to dance for the very first time on a remote island in the Arctic, where they were working on a research project. Bill and Jahren trusted each other implicitly, and Jahren mentions that she was amazed at the depth of his loyalty to her. When she got her first position after graduate school, Bill moved to Atlanta with her, sleeping in his van or in the lab at night because he could not afford a place to stay. He moved with her to Baltimore, to work at Johns Hopkins, and again to Hawaii. Although Bill was initially uncomfortable with Clint, they became fast friends, and Bill, Clint, and Jahren functioned as a happy, albeit nontraditional, family unit.

Bill Quotes in Lab Girl

The Lab Girl quotes below are all either spoken by Bill or refer to Bill. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Life Cycles Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Knopf edition of Lab Girl published in 2016.
Part 1: Roots and Leaves Quotes

“Hey, you guys! Want a cold one?”

“No, I don’t. That stuff you are drinking tastes like piss.”

“Well, I don’t really like beer, but that stuff does seem pretty awful.”

“Jean Genet wouldn’t have even stolen that shit.”

Related Characters: Hope Jahren (speaker), Bill (speaker)
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

For all the time that we spent together, Bill had mostly remained a mystery to me. I had been around him enough to know that he didn’t do drugs, skip class, or litter on the street—incongruously enough, considering his disaffected comportment—but I didn’t know anything beyond that.

Related Characters: Hope Jahren (speaker), Bill
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: Wood and Knots Quotes

Thus splitters and lumpers are both productive only when forced into bickering collaboration, and though together they produce great maps, they rarely return from field trips on speaking terms.

Related Characters: Hope Jahren (speaker), Bill
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3: Flowers and Fruit Quotes

Look at those guys. I’m going to do this job for thirty more years, work as hard as any of them, accomplish just as much or more, and not one of them will ever look me straight in the eye like I belong here.

Related Characters: Hope Jahren (speaker), Bill
Page Number: 200
Explanation and Analysis:

“C’mon, Bill, you’re with us now. Why don’t you drive?”

Related Characters: Clint (speaker), Hope Jahren, Bill
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Lab Girl LitChart as a printable PDF.
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Bill Character Timeline in Lab Girl

The timeline below shows where the character Bill appears in Lab Girl. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: Roots and Leaves
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
...turns 40 years old, after 14 years as a professor, she and her lab partner, Bill, finally create a machine that will work with a mass spectrometer, which is a major... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
This struggle came to an end, however, when Bill entered Jahren’s office to announce “the motherfucker works” and handed her the paperwork to prove... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
...of California, Berkeley. That was also where she met her lab partner and lifelong friend, Bill. Jahren was the graduate assistant on a field trip through California’s Central Valley, aiding the... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
...other students giggled and gossiped about the possible romantic relationship they saw blossoming, Jahren and Bill developed a strong platonic bond that would last beyond the California field trip. Before the... (full context)
Women and Science Theme Icon
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
...packed up her work and went back to her office, and shared her discovery with Bill, who turned off the radio he was listening to, and gave her his full attention. (full context)
Life Cycles Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
...and Jahren was panicking. She returned in the fall, feeling a distinct sense of failure. Bill’s suggestion, presumably made in jest, was to set one of the trees on fire as... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Jahren speeds through the four years of her Ph.D. program, and she and Bill both graduate in May 1996. Jahren had applied for jobs early, and by graduation she... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
As she finishes filling a tube, Jahren looks up at Bill, who is also fixated on his work. Jahren asks if he wants to listen to... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Mental Illness and Treatment Theme Icon
...explode after she placed it on the counter. As she considers the damage around her, Bill ushers her outside for a cigarette break, helping her calm down. Jahren chews on the... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Mental Illness and Treatment Theme Icon
Jahren moves out to Atlanta first, dropping Bill off with his parents in Southern California along the way. She meets Bill’s father, an... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Mental Illness and Treatment Theme Icon
Bill comments that she looks different, and Jahren informs him that she is one of the... (full context)
Part 2: Wood and Knots
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
Jahren returns to the story of her life as a new professor: she and Bill are fully engrossed in the work of building the new Jahren lab, filling it with... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
Jahren and Bill have decided to teach their soil class differently from the way it has been taught... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
...scientists would find remarkable—while most travelers would not take much note of it, Jahren and Bill consider it soil nirvana for its rust-red oxidized strip of soil. They arrive at the... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
...soil science. Jahren considers these trips a more effective teaching tool than classroom time, and Bill is both an excellent driver and a patient and caring teacher, even after five days... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
...howler monkey screaming and gesticulating at no one in particular. Jahren then looks over at Bill, who has found his mirror image in primate form, and doubles over laughing. They finish... (full context)
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
...single contract to around $165,000. This would allow Jahren, for example, to pay her assistant, Bill, about $25,000 per year, with an extra $10,000 to cover his benefits, and an extra... (full context)
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
...Jeep and moves closer in to town. Unfortunately, her city apartment is not much better: Bill names it the “Rat Hole,” and Jahren soon learns that she is close enough to... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
Early one morning, Bill calls Jahren to inform her that he has shaved off all of his long, glossy... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
Jahren admits that it made her uncomfortable to think of Bill cutting off a part of himself and just throwing it away, and Bill agrees, which... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
Bill’s life in the van is much more difficult in the summer, when the temperatures quickly... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
One night, the Georgia Tech campus security finds Bill’s van in the lot, and the officers wake him up to find out what’s going... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
Back in the lab, Bill and Jahren discuss the fact that he would probably be a prime suspect for nearly... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
To disguise his unofficial living quarters, Bill sleeps in “pajakis,” a t-shirt and khakis, so that he can claim to have fallen... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
The other issue that plagues Bill is the question of where to shower, as there are no facilities in the building.... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
Bill listens patiently to the students, not judging, and not sharing any information about his own... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Mental Illness and Treatment Theme Icon
...bed for 36 hours. During the mania, however, Jahren runs to the lab to tell Bill about a scientific breakthrough she just discovered, and to inform him that they will be... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Mental Illness and Treatment Theme Icon
When Jahren returned to the lab, days later, Bill informed her that he had secured the van for their trip to San Francisco, and... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
...be taken to the Salt Lake City airport so that she can fly home, and Bill refuses. He reminds her that she was the one who crashed the van, and she... (full context)
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
...advantage of any supplies that weren’t being used by other labs or offices in desperation. Bill’s salary had also run out, and he was homeless and dependent upon Jahren for meals. (full context)
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
Mental Illness and Treatment Theme Icon
Science vs. Literature Theme Icon
...stoning. Her anxiety would spiral out of control at this point, and she would call Bill to talk her down. They would talk until the sun came up, and Bill would... (full context)
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
Mental Illness and Treatment Theme Icon
...her eating and sleeping habits, and began to take control of her mental health. Even Bill changed—he stopped smoking. They continued to work together, and to apply for grants until they... (full context)
Part 3: Flowers and Fruit
Life Cycles Theme Icon
...into the city of Baltimore, and bought a row house close to the university, and Bill moved into her attic. (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
Jahren and Bill were on their way to creating a bigger, better Jahren lab at Johns Hopkins, and... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Jahren and Bill are spending the summer on Axel Heiberg Island in Canada, and it feels like the... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
Jahren and Bill are on the island with 10 paleontologists from the University of Pennsylvania, who are carefully... (full context)
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Demystification of Science Theme Icon
One day, Bill notices an Arctic hare in the distance, and the two decide to follow it. They... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
When Bill admits that he never went to prom, Jahren tells him that he should make up... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
...in Oslo City Hall. They returned to the United States and went straight to see Bill, who had recently moved out of Jahren’s attic and bought a place of his own... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
When they arrived at Bill’s house, Jahren announced that she and Clint had gotten married, and Bill’s main concern was... (full context)
Women and Science Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
...lab after everyone else has gone home, and sits with Reba in the dark. When Bill arrives, he is surprised to see her, makes jokes in an attempt to bring things... (full context)
Life Cycles Theme Icon
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
...they could replace old supplies, no longer needed to steal from other labs, and that Bill could actually have a consistent salary from year to year. This also brought down Jahren’s... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
One morning, Jahren woke to an email from Bill, informing her that his father had died. Jahren responded by flooding him with text messages... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
There was so much more that Jahren wanted to say to Bill, about how he was the fulfillment of his father’s dreams of a new life in... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
...winding roads of the city. Suddenly, Jahren heard a crash, and looked over to see Bill’s window smashed, though he seemed to be okay. They got out and determined that Jahren... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
...and began to hike to the highest point they could find together. Jahren noticed that Bill still seemed weighted down, not free and content as he usually was in open spaces,... (full context)
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Bill admits that he feels bad for himself, and that having a parent die makes him... (full context)
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Jahren asked Bill if he had any vials with him, because the moss on the top of the... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
...needed permits to get the samples to Norway, but she was so busy worrying about Bill that she had forgotten to check. Bill explained that they didn’t need permits, as the... (full context)
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Demystification of Science Theme Icon
While Jahren stewed over the 60 hours of work that they had lost, Bill reminded her that they had photographed everything and taken meticulous notes, so all was not... (full context)
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Demystification of Science Theme Icon
Whenever they had a new lab assistant to break in, Bill and Jahren would first give him hundreds of vials to label, using complex codes. They... (full context)
Life Cycles Theme Icon
One morning as Jahren entered the lab, Bill greeted her with news of one of their specimens, known as C6. The plant was... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Jahren and Bill went to Whole Foods for lunch, and ended up making a series of impulse buys... (full context)
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...who love him. She leaves the room and checks her phone, seeing a message from Bill asking for ipecac (a chemical compound that will induce vomiting) and more food. She then... (full context)
Life Cycles Theme Icon
...her mammogram, which is already three years overdue, and that she has rescheduled once already. Bill comes in to the lab, and as she is noticing that he hardly looks any... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Jahren worries about Bill, however—he seems to have missed out on having a wife and kids, because he has... (full context)
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People still wonder about the nature of Jahren’s relationship with Bill, as they spend so much time together, have intertwined their finances and personal lives, and... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Science vs. Literature Theme Icon
As Jahren and Bill discuss their plans for the future, they begin to recount stories of past experiments and... (full context)
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Science vs. Literature Theme Icon
Bill knows about Jahren’s writing—she writes poems and stashes them in the glove compartment of her... (full context)
Epilogue
Life Cycles Theme Icon
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
...marking their children’s growth on the trunk. She also begs, half jokingly, that readers carve Bill’s name into the tree trunk as well. (full context)