MEET SARA

2013

 
 

Dr. Sara Sawyer was born in Olathe, Kansas, and earned a bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Kansas. As an undergraduate, she did research on fuel cell technology being developed for use in battery-powered cars. After college, Dr. Sawyer worked as a drilling engineer in the oil industry, a job that took her to off-shore drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. She then attended graduate school at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. There, she earned a Ph.D. in Genetics for studying cell cycle regulation of DNA replication in yeast.


During her post-doctoral training, Dr. Sawyer worked on the molecular evolution of HIV restriction factors. She worked with Dr. Harmit Malik, an evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. She also worked closely with Dr. Michael Emerman, an HIV biologist who is also at "the Hutch."

Physicists have a joke about a spherical cow: "When you first want to write a mathematical model to describe a cow, assume it is a perfect sphere." These equations won't describe the cow perfectly, but they will probably get it about 70% right. After that, it is a matter of diminishing returns to make the model more and more accurate. The wonderful thing about molecular evolution at this moment is that the explosion of genomics has created so many research opportunities that did not exist before. We are at the point of modeling a "spherical cow" when it comes to understanding how genomes and genes evolve. So, the research in the Sawyer lab doesn't focus on fine mechanistic details, but instead we look at the "footprints" that evolution has left on genes and genomes in order to figure out how evolution works, and to understand the health implications of pathogen-driven evolution.




I want to share a few words about my "philosophy" for anyone who may be considering joining my lab. I care about helping people develop the skills that they need in order to build a successful career. But, on a more existential level, I hope to show you that there is no finer way to live your life than engaged in a meaningful intellectual pursuit. I demand dedication and hard work, but in return you will gain my fierce loyalty to you and your career. And finally, although there will be obstacles, I believe that graduate school should be fun (at least most of the time). According to the Buddhists, "Happiness is the road, not the destination."


So, why join a newer lab versus one that is more established? Obviously there are pros and cons to both. During my post-doc, I was the first trainee in a brand-new lab, and it was a rare and wonderful experience. There is so much energy associated with starting a lab, sort of like being part of a start-up company. I got a lot of one-on-one training because the lab was small, and I had a lot of time to get to know my advisor. If you would like to be a member of a team engaged in exciting and challenging research, please speak with me about possible graduate or postdoctoral research projects.

 


Sara Sawyer, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Department of Molecular Biosciences

Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology

Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology

Center for Infectious Disease


Biography

B.S.          Chemical Engineering

                 University of Kansas

               

Ph.D.        Genetics and Development

                 Cornell University

               

Postdoc    Fred Hutchinson Cancer

                 Research Center

       

Lab: MBB 2.124

Email:

office: 512-232-6179

Contact Info.

Message to Potential Trainees

Graduate Programs

Favorite Quote

“ It's been approximately 3.5 billion years since primeval life first originated on this planet. That is not an unimaginable number in itself, if you're thinking of simple, discrete units like dollars or grains of sand. But 3.5 billion years of biological history is different. All those years have really passed, moment by moment, one by one. They encompass an actual, already lived reality, encompassing all the lives of all the organisms that have come and gone in that time. That expanse of time defines the realm of biological possibility in which life in its extraordinary diversity has evolved. It is time that has allowed the making of us. “


-- By Verlyn Klinkenborg, August 23, 2005, New York Times