The Hallmark for Scientists (Free Card Inside!)

benchThe holidays are upon us, which means we can all look forward to the painful search for the “perfect card” to give to friends and family.  There will be rows of cards packed with lame jokes and terrible puns and none will truly relate to the world we scientists live in.  But that’s about to change…

As scientists, we’re always looking for opportunities to advance our projects.  However, for many of us, our “projects” aren’t only carried out at the bench.  For UCSF graduate student Tina Shahian, a project that started as a hobby has rapidly expanded in to a blossoming small business – greeting cards for scientists.  We were inspired by her story so we sat down with Tina to find out how she recognized the opportunity and acted on it while balancing life at the bench.

BF: How did the idea for this arise?

TS: I’ve been designing my own greeting cards since preschool. It’s an excuse to make art, something I love to do, but one that is personal. In the lab it’s common to sign joint cards for birthdays, baby showers and other special occasions. One day I thought why not make a funny custom card for a friend’s going-away? No Hallmark card could capture this awesome person, with his everyday green fleece zip-up jacket and Tevas. Well, the card was a hit and it continued from there.

Describe the moment you decided to make this more than an idea and actually take action.

I made a baby shower greeting card for a postdoc in my lab. She does peptide chemistry, so I portrayed her synthesizing a baby by mixing individual amino acids into a giant beaker. She loved it and urged me to sell my cards. Another lab-mate agreed and pointed out the lack of greeting cards for graduate students in science research.  That following weekend I sketched my first card.Tina pic3

How have you balanced lab, life and your blossoming card business?

It’s only the beginning, so I can’t say that my PhD is in jeopardy –  yet! After all, the lab is where I get my inspiration, so I have to put in the time. The better question is, how I manage to balance cooking dinner and doing laundry with making cards. Those are somewhat suffering.

Why do you think these have connected with scientists so well?

I’m so thrilled that my colleagues like the cards. My goal was to create a line of cards that speaks to the daily life of a graduate student and does it in their language. I “nerded” out on  purpose because I wanted a product that can only be decoded by it’s intended audience – kind of like being part of an exclusive society. Even the guy who sells the cards at my campus’s bookstore admitted he has no clue what they mean. I think that’s kind of cool! Graduate school sucks up a big chunk of our lives, literally, and not to mention that dreaded monster, the oral exam.  Animal humor cards with cats wearing sunglasses get old after a while, so seeing an instrument that you use daily spell out “Happy Birthday” can be exciting.

One of your cards shows a poorly-dressed grad scientist standing out at a party of well-dressed non-scientists.  Do you think this accurately reflects our current identity, or do you think we’ve essentially embraced the stereotype?

It is a stereotype that does not apply to all scientists, but it is based on reality. I know a postdoc who has been wearing the same orange t-shirt everyday for the past 4 years. I don’t know if it’s the same one re-washed, or if he has a closet-full of them. I also went to a formal nightclub once, with a female student who wore jeans and flip-flops. Generally speaking, if a girl wears heals or a guy tucks in his shirt to lab, the assumption is a job interview. The casual dress code is an engrained part of the lab’s culture and I wanted to celebrate it.  I think it’s ok as long we remember to up our game for an interview or a wedding. After six years it can be easy to forget!

Is there a way readers outside of San Francisco can find your cards?

Yes. You can find the cards on my website where you can type your message into the card at the time of purchase and mail it directly to it’s recipient. Of course if you are at the UCSF Mission Bay campus, just stop by the bookstore in Genentech Hall. I’m in the process of expanding to other campuses. I also create custom designs that can be used for teaching or other purposes.

Do you have any advice for other scientists deciding whether they should pursue an outside interest in a more serious way?

My advice is to definitely pursue it and many already do. Honestly scientists are some of most well-rounded people and they have very active lives outside the lab. They climb rocks, knit sweaters, play in rock bands, brew their own beer, and travel the world. And they do it just as well as they do their science, if not better!

You’ve been kind enough to design a card for our readers to download and use – tell us about it!

I wanted to design a card that can be used for almost any occasion. I thought it would be cool to make it a snapshot of a graduate student in a yeast genetics lab.  Kind of like “Meet Bill! He’s buried up to the neck in plates and working hard. What would you like to say Bill?”

This is our world! It’s filled with “stuff” that to most people looks like props from a science fiction movie set where crazy scientists are making three-legged humans.





Get Tina’s exclusive all-occasion greeting card here!

Click the image to download the pdf.  Simply print, fold and give- it’s that easy- and that free!





Now for a little card-giving etiquette, don’t give the same person the same card multiple times… Instead, check out Tina’s website to see her other designs. It’s great to see a fellow scientist taking a chance and pursuing a passion.  We know Hallmark isn’t eating Ramen noodles once a week- let’s support Tina so she doesn’t have to either!

5 comments so far. Join The Discussion

  1. kfly

    wrote on December 2, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    Wow! Tina is a great artist! Her cards are amusing and creative, and some are really funny! It's refreshing and inspiring to read about students who are both embracing the scientific career and branching out of it at the same time. Good luck to you and I will be ordering some cards soon! Thanks BenchFly for telling us about her!!

  2. 13columns

    wrote on December 2, 2009 at 7:46 pm

    card downloaded and printed. total holiday shopping time – 41 seconds… sweet.

  3. wizkid

    wrote on December 6, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    Thanks for the card! Five minutes with some glossy paper and the lab printer took care of my entire Christmas card mailing list.

  4. BenchFly's Holiday Gift Guide | BenchFly Blog

    wrote on December 11, 2009 at 2:17 am

    […] A Free All-occasion greeting card […]

  5. Keep Your Sanity With a Smile | BenchFly Blog

    wrote on January 19, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    […] The Hallmark for Scientists – find the perfect card for your scientist friend or family member or print a special edition BenchFly card for free […]

Leave a comment

will not be published