Grant Hoyt Honored for Thirty Years of Service in Robbins Lab
by Danielle deLeon
Standing at an imposing six feet, eight inches, you wouldn’t think that Grant Hoyt’s expertise would be in microsurgery, surgery performed under magnification using delicate instruments and precise techniques. But that’s exactly what he does at the Laboratory of Cardiothoracic Transplantation (also known as the Robbins Lab), Grant’s place of work for the last thirty years.
Rats and mice are the main animal models used most for heart and lung transplant research, and Grant has the extraordinarily steady hands capable of performing the tiniest of procedures. “I could’ve had three double espressos, and my hands would have no tremor whatsoever, but that’s just luck.”
What isn’t happenstance is that he’s the only permanent member of the Robbins Lab. Even though the transplant laboratory has trained hundreds of young residents, medical students, and scientists over the past four decades, most trainees are transitory, often moving on to other organizations or departments. Grant, however, has remained as the constant amongst the change and is actively involved with the development of every newcomer to the lab. Grant sees the dispiriting nature of the frequent turnover in a positive light. “It’s always disappointing when a friend leaves, but I’ve made a lot of lifetime friendships—among the greatest I’ll ever have. I’m really fortunate to be in the kind of environment that’s professionally stimulating and challenging, where I’m able to bond with a lot of really wonderful people.”
Grant came to the transplant lab in 1975 having no idea that he’d still be here, working strong, thirty years later. A major influence on Grant has been his mentor and friend, now-Chairman Robert Robbins, for whom Grant openly expresses his respect. “[Dr. Robbins] is a really dynamic, intelligent, and skilled individual, but he also has a lot of qualities that I admire such as humility, integrity, and a sense of humor. He’s just the greatest.” Grant credits Robbins’ influence and friendship as one of the reasons he has stayed so long. “You can’t ask for more when your boss is a friend and treats you like a peer and an adult and creates the kind of workplace that is so rewarding and stimulating.”
But no job is without its drawbacks. Bureaucracy, funding difficulties, and deadlines are very much a part of the struggle to maintain a well-functioning lab in an academic environment, but Grant doesn’t see this as anything extraordinary or insurmountable. “Things go wrong constantly in life. They go wrong everywhere, so part of being in a small lab--sometimes under-funded, or understaffed--is you have to be creative and resourceful and persistent in problem solving and go the extra yard to get your work done right. And I’m very proud of the way that the people who are attracted to our lab, and who end up in our lab, adhere to the high standards you need to have to be in a good science lab.”
Oddly enough, Grant’s education wasn’t originally as a scientist. His major was in journalism and writing, but the necessity of employment required he look for a job based on former lab experience. He happened upon a position in the Robbins Lab and has never looked back. Grant has no regrets about his decision to continue in science and finds the work ceaselessly fascinating. “In science, you have to be the ultimate skeptic. You believe nothing until it’s demonstrated with statistics and repetition, as well as the right amount of peer review and criticism, to support your initial findings. And at the same time, you believe everything. You’re the ultimate, naïve, open-minded optimist. It’s great to be in the lab and be involved with these experiments, to challenge yourself and the away you think about things, and remind yourself that just because you’ve been lead down a path to believe that something is true, there might be other explanations.”
Looking toward the future, Grant sees unlimited potential for stem cell research. “The stem cell arena is happening. It’s huge and I think we’re really lucky to be partnering with some very dynamic investigators on Stanford campus at the medical center. I can’t predict how this research is going to turn out, but I think the best scientific minds have decided to spend money to look at stem cells in a big way in this state, and most people feel it’s a growing field that could be tremendously beneficial to human kind. The Robbins Lab is a vital part of this work, but we’re just one part.”
In his free time, Grant’s deft fingers are put to work as an electric bassist and guitarist, and his sharp eyes serve his interests well as an avid birdwatcher. His next musical project combines his two favorite pastimes--an album of songs related to birding to be released sometime this year. His wife of eighteen years, Karen, is also actively into birds and started Sky Hunters (http://sky-hunters.org/), a non-profit organization dedicated to informing the public about raptors, birds of prey, and promoting raptor conservation. The couple’s synergistic relationship complements both their directions. “We’re very supportive of each others pursuits. We’re realizing dreams that others do earlier in their lives, and it’s immensely rewarding.”The Laboratory of Cardiothoracic Transplantation (Robbins Lab) and the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery thank Grant Hoyt for his thirty years of exemplary service and continued dedication.