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Stanford University School of Medicine

Stanford postdocs raise a glass to epic failures

When it comes to the process of scientific inquiry, one researcher’s failure is another’s teaching moment.

This was the theme of “Tell Us Your Epic Fails” night, held at a Palo Alto bar during last month's National Postdoc Appreciation Week. Organized by the Stanford University Postdoctoral Association (SURPAS), an advocacy group, the event encouraged a room full of fellows to share their most embarrassing tales of research-gone-wrong in a safe, beer-soaked environment.

Anand Rao, PhD, a neuroscientist in anesthesiology, told a story about the first time he mentored a new graduate student. They were going to work late setting up an experiment, so he brought a warm six-pack of beer into the lab. As he got organized, he asked his mentee to quickly cool down the beer. (At this point, the experienced postdocs let out a collective groan.) A few minutes later, he heard a large explosion in the adjacent room. The student had lowered the six-pack into a tank of liquid nitrogen and the cans burst, spraying the room with fizzy beer gas and ruining the cell samples stored there.

Next up was João Pedro Garcia Lopes Maia Rodrigues, PhD, (shown above) who believes he was hired into Nobelist Michael Levitt’s computational structural biology lab because he sparked Levitt's curiosity when he sent him a job query using his absurdly long university-assigned email, Rodrigues’ epic fail happened at Utrecht University, while writing a computer program to predict protein structures. When his program accidentally created a file that he couldn’t delete, he promptly modified the program to erase that particular file. But accidentally, he ended up deleting everything on his lab’s server -- which hadn't been backed up. Forever etched into Rodrigues’ DNA is his supervisor’s response when he heard what had happened: “It’s OK. Everyone makes mistakes — once.”

The grand prize winner of the night was Bradley Tolar, PhD, (shown here) who studies the ecology of ocean microbes in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. Through his keen powers of observation, Tolar noticed that the postdoc lifestyle — the long hours, the low pay — might not be enough to attract the perfect mate, so he assembled a collection of irresistible pick-up lines to help his colleagues. Some of the best were:

  • "Are you my appendix? I don’t understand how you work, but this feeling in my gut makes me want to take you out."
  • "Are you a carbon sample? I want to date you."
  • "According to the second law of thermodynamics, you’re supposed to share your hotness with me."
  • "I wish I was your coronary artery, so I could be wrapped around your heart."

Tolar was awarded a SURPAS hat for making the postdocs laugh the loudest and longest.

Photos by Kris Newby

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