Unique Scientist: Dr. Sarah Cook

Time to introduce #UniqueScientist Dr. Sarah Cook (She/her)! Dr. Cook is a immunologist from the United Kingdom currently working at the University of California, Davis in the USA!

What kind of scientist are you?
I am an immunologist who studies how the immune system is activated. Specifically, one cell of your immune system, the B cell, needs to mutate its DNA before it can properly fight off an infection – I look at how B cells mutate to accomplish their mission.

What made you want to become a scientist?
I am allergic to dogs and I always wanted to know why! When I was around 15 in biology they told us it was all to do with the immune system, and so I decided I wanted to be a medical doctor who helped cure allergies. It wasn’t until I got to University that I found out that “scientist” was a job – I had assumed that was something from history – like Einstein and Newton. From that point on I knew I wanted to be a scientist that studied the immune system!

“I am a first generation student […] It is only now, later in my career, that I realise how much “common knowledge” I just simply didn’t know.”

Dr. Sarah Cook

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
I am a first generation student, meaning I am the first member of my family to ever earn a University degree, never mind a PhD. It is only now, later in my career, that I realise how much “common knowledge” I just simply didn’t know. This includes grants I could apply to, extensions I could ask for, preparing for interviews as well as the fact that I didn’t even know postgraduate degrees were a thing!

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
My four main hobbies are travelling, hiking, seeing live bands and crocheting!

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
Work-life balance and expectations would be high on the list, but if I could only choose one thing then I’d say the attitude towards publishing/releasing/talking about “negative” data – data that doesn’t fit the hypothesis. This data is never going to be published by a “prestigious” journal, and rather than publish in a “low impact” journal, often scientists just don’t bother publishing at all. This leads to the situation where multiple labs all have the same hypothesis – all do the experiments and find negative data – and no one publishes – so more labs try again! It is such a waste on people’s time, money and resources.

“At age 11, when I walked up to [my parents] and declared “I’M GOING TO CURE THE COMMON COLD!” they said “OK! You can do it!

[…] Spoiler alert: I have in fact, not, cured the common cold.

Dr. Sarah Cook

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
My parents are the absolute best. At age 11, when I walked up to them and declared “I’M GOING TO CURE THE COMMON COLD!” they said “OK! You can do it!“** They have been there for me when I’ve been in tears from exams, tears from stress, tears from moving to another country, as well as my sheer joy at completing my undergraduate and PhD degrees. They have always believed in me, and I do everything I can to make them proud.

**Spoiler alert: I have in fact, not, cured the common cold.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
I managed to crochet a “graduate” sea otter in 2 days for the undergraduate in our lab who is leaving next week! I’m still pretty new to crocheting, and it’s definitely the best thing I’ve done!


#WomenInSTEM, #FirstGen, #FirstGenGrad, #FirstGenDocs

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