James Clarke of King’s College London is this year’s Lab Grammy champion for his video “The Tale of a Post Doc”!
Based on Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Clarke’s video follows the trials and eventual successes of the fictitious “Post Doc,” from grant application denials and undergraduate students in the lab to publication in the journal Science and acceptance of a tenure track position.
“The music lends itself to a lamenting tale of disappointment followed by success. I wrote the lyrics to fit the tune and the feel of the music before I even thought of the video,” Clarke said. “Times are tough in science at the moment, with funding hard to come by, so I thought having a video in which a troubled post doc finally gets some success was a good way to go.”
And the voters certainly agreed. Clarke’s video collected approximately 50% of more than 1800 votes cast this year.
In addition to writing the lyrics, Clarke raised the level of competition for the 2014 Lab Grammy by recording all of the music himself. “I enjoy making music and have been doing so for most of my life. I have a small home studio, and I love singing. Bohemian Rhapsody was tough to re-create, with a combination of challenging vocal harmonies and a very recognizable sound. It took around two weeks of evenings to get the instruments right and then a further three days to painstakingly lay down the vocals. Rather annoyingly, having recorded the vocals, I decided to change the lyrics and had to start again on the vocal recording,” he explained.
Clarke began making lab parody videos about four years ago when a comedy sketch video became the hit of the lab Christmas party. A post doc at the time, Clarke decided to use his musical talent to make this a tradition.
But he never imagined that one day his video would be chosen for a Lab Grammy. He learned of the nomination through a comment on his YouTube channel from one of the other contenders and was notified Wednesday that he won.
“Wow! I am over the moon!” he exclaimed. But how does he feel about this unexpected success? “How do I feel? I feel shocked! I certainly did not expect to win. Some of the other videos are fantastic and were clearly made by some very talented people. I am very proud to have received the most votes, that's for sure. If I were to write an acceptance speech, I would be thanking my colleagues and the students who were so willing to participate. I don't appear in front of the camera in anything I have filmed, so without those people I'd have nothing to put on YouTube!”
When not working on music videos, Clarke divides his time between teaching physiology and running a research program focusing on the molecular basis of heart failure with a particular interest in kinase pathways involved in the pathology of heart disease. While not exactly autobiographical, the winning video reflects Clarke’s appreciation for a great 15 year run in science so far. He received tenure himself in 2011.
Here at BioTechniques, we are excited to have found this new talent in the science music video field. We expect great things going forward, but were unable to extract any details from Clarke on his next project. “All I can say is I am a great fan of the music of the 1980s, and I have a few songs in mind for this year’s Christmas video. Some of the staff have suggested that we do a summer video too, so watch this space.”
And we certainly will.
Bohemian Rhapsody (aka "The tale of a Post Doc")
James Clarke, 2013, YouTube.
The video was recorded with the help of the staff and students of the Rayne Institute, King's College London.