Molecular, cellular and developmental biology professor Joseph Wolenski is writing song lyrics for his next biology-themed parody music video, set to feature his undergraduate lab students and — if she agrees to Wolenski’s multiple email requests — seven-time Grammy award winner Taylor Swift.
Last spring, Wolenski’s semester-long sequence of two courses, “Experimental Techniques in Cellular Biology” and “Experimental Strategies in Cellular Biology” (MCDB 344L and MCDB 345L, respectively), composed of fewer than 20 students drawn from a pool of competitive applicants, started the tradition of putting the skills and vocabulary they learned during lab to song lyrics. Their final product, “Talk Nerdy” — a parody of Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty” — received more than 6,000 hits on YouTube and has been entered into a competition for a Lab Grammy award by BioTechniques, a peer-reviewed scientific journal. It includes biology-related lines like “You got the plasmid I want, mutagenesis. Our antibodies ain’t big, but you know what is.”
Despite the limited amount of time students had to make the video, Wolenski called it a success and said he plans to make this year’s video project even better. He said the class hopes to make a “Shake it Off” parody featuring Swift.
“The students are what keep me alive, you know, motivated and energized,” Wolenski said, adding that these music videos are a new way to interact with the students while still promoting the ideals of education and learning.
Wolenski has sent at least two emails to try to contact Taylor Swift’s management team and has been encouraging his students to do the same. He said he is hopeful that the project will pan out because Swift is known for reaching out to fans and because she lives nearby in New York City. The class only requests 10 minutes of her time, he added.
Although last year’s video only featured teaching fellows and students in the class, Wolenski said he wants this year’s video to be a campus-wide production — especially if Swift is involved. He said he hopes to include Yale cheerleaders, dancers from Rhythmic Blue and possibly even a cameo from University President Peter Salovey. Wolenski added that he hopes undergraduates will get on board in using social media like Facebook or Twitter to show support for the video and start a campaign to lure Swift to campus.
Yale College Council President Michael Herbert ’16 said that for the time being he is unsure whether YCC would “lead the charge” on trying to get Swift to come to campus. But if the campaign gains momentum, he could see the YCC jumping in, he said.
Wolenski’s daughter, Rebecca Wolenski ’16, who had a short cameo in the video last year, said that while she has not tried to help her father in contacting Swift, she finds his mission both inspiring and amusing.
“I think it’s hilarious,” she said. “If [Swift’s appearance] actually happened, that would be amazing, but who knows how many of her emails are actually read. I’m just so happy that he dreams big and tries.”
Students from the class interviewed said the video-making process was a fun way to form a tight-knit class community. Despite the advanced topics that it features, the video will make science more accessible to a wider audience, said Jenny Wu ’15, who wrote the “Talk Nerdy” song lyrics. Wolenski’s approach shows students that classes covering difficult subjects can also be fun, Wu said.
Kyle Krzesowik ’15 said the video project never took away from actual work time. The class met in lab from eight to 10 hours a week and worked on ideas for the music video while waiting for experiments to finish.
Wu, who cited Wolenski’s courses as two of her favorites at Yale, said it was unlike any stereotypical “insular or isolated” lab experience.
“It’s really important to make [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] more accessible to people in general,” Wu said. “I’ve always been especially interested in the intersections between science and art, which is one of the reasons I loved this project.”
If Swift cannot come to Yale, Wolenski said, she could send in a video to be edited by the class. Regardless of the outcome, Wolenski said, he has multiple back-up plans, which include contacting relatively newer pop sensations Meghan Trainor and Ariana Grande. If the class does luck out, though, Wolenski said he already has some ideas about what the video’s first lines could be. One option is “I’ve got plenty on my brain, that’s what my neurons say.”
Swift’s agents could not be reached for comment.
Special registration procedures apply for MCDB 344L/345L, and interested students must contact the instructor at least 18 months in advance, according to the course website.