Pardis Sabeti laboratory/Harvard University
Scientists are used to spending a long time working on their publications. After all, getting a good paper out in a major journal can be a major career break. They hope that their newest work will be their best and will build off of previous efforts in a meaningful way.
For years, Pardis Sabeti’s laboratory at Harvard University has also devoted extracurricular energy to a very different kind of publication—a holiday card that has become more elaborate and epic with each passing year.
The first card I received from the lab was delightfully tongue in cheek—a recreation of the Renaissance painting, “The School of Athens.” Lab members who were absent had their heads photoshopped onto statues.
Last year, the laboratory upped the ante by recreating scenes from the popular “Gangnam Style” video by South Korean rapper Psy. The dance moves, costumes, and layout were all elaborate, and I assumed—naively—that perhaps the tradition had reached its peak.
I was wrong. This year, Sabeti’s card features two guest stars: Chris Martin, from the band Coldplay, and Seth Meyers from Saturday Night Live. If you look closely, you can see the celebrity cameos at the back of the group picture.
Sabeti and her many students and post-doctoral researchers decided to do a Saturday Night Live-themed card, complete with cheerleaders, Coneheads, Wayne’s World, and real celebrity guests. They even branded the card SnL, for Sabeti ‘n Lab.
I asked Sabeti how on earth Chris Martin and Seth Meyers became involved, donning
“severely infected by science” T-shirts.
Sabeti said that she had been invited to an event for the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which supports Parkinson’s disease research. She knew the comedian Tina Fey was performing, and she had become interested in doing an “Anchorman 2” themed holiday card. So she brought a lab T-shirt in the hopes she could convince Fey to put it on and take a quick photo.
She didn’t manage to catch Fey, but Sabeti spotted Meyers and Martin standing nearby and asked them whether they’d mind wearing the shirts.
“Since it was only a small shirt Seth wore it as a scarf and Chris held it,” Sabeti wrote in an e-mail. “I was overwhelmed by how sweetly they responded to what we were doing, and how they wanted to learn more about my lab and support” it.
Normally, Sabeti’s laboratory focuses on serious research—such as computational methods for understanding large data sets, or genome analysis to understand infectious diseases such as cholera. I’ve always found it delightful that the lab brings its big ambitions to something as offbeat as a holiday card, too.