His name is Bockfred, he takes care – The penguin patron of PhD students

Since the dawn of civilization people have always been looking for spiritual help to secure their harvest in hard times, to protect their loved ones or to save their lives when it was at stake. There is a long list of patrons for every kind of job, illness or situation you can think of. The patron of drunk people is Noach or Noah. He was the one who was in charge to build the big ship (Noah’s Ark), which would save his family and lots of animals. And that was not only once matter for some epic movies. It seems that he got pretty wasted after surviving the deluge and thereby became the patron of the drunk.

Albertus Magnus, the patron of scientists

Albertus Magnus is actually the patron of the scientists and was known during his hlifetime as doctor universalis. He wrote more than 25 books covering topics such as zoology, astrology, friendship and love. If you want to praise the saint of the scientists by handing him over some offerings (an apple in shape of your most favourite cell type or a video tape which shows how you dance your PhD) you can visit the statue of Albertus Magnus in front of the main building of the University of Cologne (Albertus-Magnus-Platz, 50931 Cologne). As you can imagine, there is no patron or saint for PhD students – sure we can mix and match: Noah Magnus or Albertus Nikolaus (Nikolaus as the patron of students). Still that feels a bit unsatisfying. There has to be a better solution since even nowadays young academics seek the help of patrons to guide their way through the long and mentally demanding period of conducting research.


Investigative research done by the Blog Team led to a recently unknown habit of using worry dolls to get rid of bad thoughts and mistakes one makes while working towards the Holy Grail of science: the PhD.

Bockfred, the patron of PhD students (photo: E. Mettke)

Let me introduce the patron of some PhD students found here in Bonn: His name is Bockfred. He is a grown up member of the Sphenisciformes and has a Bachelor degree in ‘Flying without wings 101’. Bockfred was used as a ‘penguin of shame’ – to be awarded to PhD students who managed to make an easily avoidable mistake, such as deleting important presentations without saving them first or using the last vial of an important cell line and instead of pouring it into the medium, discarding it into the trash. We asked some students who received the prestigious award how they felt. ‘It was a good encouragement, since I of course knew I had done something stupid. And to be honest, he is such a good looking guy [Bockfred, editor’s note] who does not want to have him on his desk?’ Others even felt proud: ‘Well, even bad publicity is publicity, right? Of course I have made a mistake. but receiving a bit of scientific attention kind of feels good.’ Using Bockfred as a worry doll fosters an environment of openly speaking about mistakes and maybe how to prevent them the next time. He can be an empty piece of paper on which you write all your worries and fears on. However, not everyone feels comfortable with Bockfred being around. ‘I am really proud when Bockfred is not in my office’, said one PhD student and another one argued that she wanted to get ‘rid of him as fast as I could’, since she felt stigmatized by the presence of the handsome penguin.

Taking in consideration that conducting a PhD can be a long and strenuous time, it seems to be a relief for some students to be able to get rid of their fears and show others that everyone makes mistakes.

If you have a lab mascot – a scientific patron or an immunological saint – feel free to tell us your story about it to share it with all our PhD students.

By the way: Bockfred was not willing to make any statement about his newly gained fame. Some things just directly go to the penguin‘s head.



Author: Elisabeth Mettke





(featured image from colourbox.com)