Sarah Burl

Oh well, it seems from todays live chat I needed a cool name!

Favourite Thing: Analysing results which lead you to designing new projects that no one else has done before!



Ursuline Brentwood High School, Essex (1981 – 1989). I loved Science and Art at school and chose science although I like to use art in science when I can.


Dundee University, Scotland (1989 – 1993). I studied Biochemistry and Anatomy, PhD from Open University while studying in The Gambia

Work History:

I have worked in various science jobs in Scotland, Canada and The Gambia and also as a science consultant in London where I worked in Switzerland, New York and San Francisco. I have worked in the areas of leukemia, stem cells, genetic modification and now infectious diseases.


Medical Research Council, The Gambia

Current Job:

I work in The Gambia as a scientist in the area of infant immunology. I have been working here for 7 years. I also teach part of the Biomedical science degree. The students don’t have an opportunity to go to university so some UK universities teach the degrees on the computer so people in The Gambia are able to get a degree. I help teach these students.

Me and my work

I am interested in how infants respond to vaccines

My work: I am interested in how infants respond to vaccines because in the Gambia children get a lot of vaccines including tuberculosis, hepatitis B, polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, measles, yellow fever. Often young children don’t respond to them very well so we try and find out why that is. I have just completed a study that looked at the vaccine for tuberculosis that is not very effective in Africa although it is very good in places like the UK. We thought that this maybe because of what these children are exposed to in the environment that stops it from working well. Now the study has finished I have to write a scientific paper about all the work which I hope will be published so people can read it from all over the world. One of the best things about my work is that I get to go to many conferences around the world. I have been to Madagascar, South  Africa, US, Canada and Turkey in the last few years.

Outside work: I love cycling, swimming, running and traveling. My husband and I sponsor the Gambian Cycling team so they have races on a regular basis as they get no sponsorship from the country. I also love making jewelery which is great here as there are so many nice African beads.

Here is a picture of all the members of the infant immunology lab myimage1

My Typical Day

No day is the same for me but every day is busy!

I will tell you about a typical Monday.

8am meeting with fieldworkers out in the countryside. The fieldworkers job is to go out into the villages collect a small amount of blood from the infants that are in our studies, check their health status and then take the blood to the lab where we look at how the cells in the blood are working.

10am lab meeting to see what work everyone has to do and if there are any problems in lab

Before lunch prepare for what blood samples will be arriving at the labs that day

After lunch work with the blood samples, sometimes we have 30 samples in one day. I have to set up many different things in the lab to work with the blood. It is only a very small amount (a teaspoon) so I have to be very careful with what I do.

When I finish the lab work I look at the results on the computer.

I also check that all the lab equipment is working and sort out any problems during the day because I am the lab manager.

I also have to read my emails, read papers about other scientists work in the same field and sometimes go to meetings about other aspects of my job.

I finish about 6-8pm and then go to the gym.

What I'd do with the money

Help to fund a Open Day for the local community in The Gambia

As the Medical Research Council in the Gambia we like to host regular open days for the mothers and children that have participated in our studies in a town called Sukuta, however we cannot always fund these, see website for details of the previous Open Day in the MRC TAMA newsletter. The £500 would be enough to fund a day of actvivities that would review the work that has been done at the institute involving the mothers and children and help educate the local community (many who are not even literate) about basic health and science issues. These often include drama groups and exhibitions.  If I won the money I would really like it if the children involved in ‘I’m a Scientist, get me out of here’ could be involved in thinking up new ideas to communicate health and science issues to the local community here.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Enthusiastic, motivated, sporty

Who is your favourite singer or band?

This is a hard one as I like so many types of music. I am not good with knowing about the UK music as I have been in Africa for so long but try listening to some South African music, I think you may like it – try Brenda Fassie – Vuli Ndlela. I can’t stop dancing when I hear this song! I also like Amadou and Mariam (a Mali duo who are both blind and are playing at the World Cup opening ceremony this year, 10th June)

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Oh so many to choose from! Riding an ostrich in South Africa, paragliding in Canada or potholing in New Zealand!

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

1. Have a better memory so I could remember all the things I read, 2. Be fitter and 3. Have more wishes!

What did you want to be after you left school?

I don’t think I really ever knew, in fact I think it has taken me many years to find out what I want to do. My belief is that if you enjoy your job you will be good at it!

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Not often but on one particular occasion I was banned from going on a trip to France because of it!

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Cloned a sheep!

Tell us a joke.

A mushroom walked into a bar. The bar tender said, “Get out of here! We don’t serve your kind.” “Hey, what’s the problem?” “Just get out of here. We don’t serve mushrooms.” The mushroom in anguish says, “Why not? I’m a fun guy.”