17 June 2019

My UEA Story: Sarah Worsley


Name: Sarah Worsley

School: Biology

Research area: Molecular Microbiology

Bio: My PhD research investigates antibiotic-producing bacteria that occur within the microbiomes of plant roots and leafcutter ants. Before coming to UEA, I studied biology at the University of Oxford followed by an MSc at Imperial College London, where my research was focussed on antibiotic resistance within the human gut microbiome.





So I'm Sarah and I study the antibiotic producing bacteria that live on leafcutter ants and also within plant roots. 

Why is your research important?

So I guess that everyone knows a little bit about the antibiotic resistance crisis and the fact that the bugs that infect us are becoming resistant to the antibiotics that we get from the doctors, so looking in strange places like the cuticle of ants is I guess the next place to go looking for antibiotics.

What fascinates you about this research area?

I think microbes are so often kind of forgotten and we don't really always realise how much they do for us, so antibiotic reduction by degradation are all things that they can do that we forget.

Whats been your favourite moment so far?

I really enjoyed going to Panama in my first year to actually dig up leafcutter ant colonies. Seeing the ants in their environment was really cool.

What do you love most about research?

Research is very exciting, you never have kind of one day that's the same and yeah I like the freedom of being a student and all the opportunities that are available to you, not just in your research but also outside.

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A Day in the Life of Sarah


7am - 8am 

I usually wake up around 7am and have some breakfast whilst checking the news and any emails. I leave my house just before 8 and either walk or cycle to the campus. Walking takes about 15 minutes which is really convenient when I have to run long experiments that need to be set up early, or if my bacteria can only be left to grow for a certain length of time overnight. It’s also a really pretty walk by the lake!


8.30am - 11.45am

I start by checking my list of tasks for the day and then go to the lab to start setting up my experiments. Tasks could be as diverse as making growth media, sub-culturing bacteria, feeding our leafcutter ant colonies or cleaning up plant roots ready for bacterial isolation. I tend to try to do any longer experiments in the morning whilst I’m still fresh. This also means that I have more time to troubleshoot if there are any complications. Occasionally I also visit the John Innes Centre for experiments, or to meet my secondary supervisor who runs a lab there.

Once every two weeks I will attend a lab meeting in the morning, during which one member of the lab goes through their most recent work. We discuss the results as a group and any future directions.


12am - 12.30pm

I have a short, informal meeting with my primary supervisor at least once a week. We use this time to catch-up on my progress and talk through any interesting results (or conundrums!) from my experiments. We also discuss ideas for grant proposals, papers and any opportunities to attend conferences.



I usually have 30 minutes for lunch (although a bit longer if there’s a birthday cake!) which I tend to spend with other post-grads from my floor, or other PhD students on my cohort over in ENV. It’s a great to time to socialize with friends away from the lab. We also try to spend some time outdoors by the lake if it’s sunny, or we occasionally take a trip to the square to visit a bakery stall that comes to UEA once a week. On a Monday everyone that does molecular microbiology attends a lunchtime seminar given by a PhD, post-doc or guest speaker. It’s a good way to find out what others are doing in different labs, seek advice and practise giving talks to a friendlier audience.


1pm - 6pm

In the afternoon I finish up my experiments and write-up my lab book as a record of that day’s work. I may also reserve an hour or two for reading papers or writing if my lab work allows for this. Before leaving the office, I will do a final check of my emails and write a list for the next day.


School of Biological Sciences

Postgraduate study