Sarah Richardson, Ph.D.

Sarah Richardson - JBEI studio portrait

Computational Biology Postdoctoral Fellow

Biological Systems & Engineering

Sarah Richardson is a postdoctoral fellow in synthetic biology at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s Joint BioEnergy Institute. Her research focuses on CRISPR and other bacterially derived tools for genome editing; she hopes to improve the adoption and efficiency of genome editing for biomanufacturing. Since getting her start as a high school intern in a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine laboratory, she has performed, and been awarded for, her extensive community outreach focused on minority and economically disadvantaged students. She received a B.S. in Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics at the University of Maryland and a Ph.D. in Human Genetics and Molecular Biology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where she was awarded a prestigious Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellowship award. She came to Berkeley Lab by way of the Joint Genome Institute, where she was a Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow in Genomics. She currently holds a L’Oréal Women in Science postdoctoral fellowship and a Synthetic Biology Leadership Excellence Accelerator Program (SynBioLEAP) fellowship. She lives in Oakland with her husband Brian Olson.

1. What inspires you to work in STEM?

The short answer is I wanted to go into space and meet aliens. The long answer is: we got problems! We could have solutions. There's no magic, there's just hard work and logic (well, then there's policy and implementation but I will support someone else taking the lead on that). I like making solutions, I like making tools that let other people solve new problems, I like working in a team, and I like knowing that I am advancing human kind towards going into space and meeting aliens.

2. What excites you about your work at the Energy Department/Berkeley Lab?

I want to work as a government scientist - funded by the people to work for the people. The national laboratory is a place where very motivated, hard working, intelligent people bring their disparate skills together to work on improving life for everyone on the planet. We are not motivated by profit or glory. There are not a lot of places like this in the world. We have a slice of civilization here - from human resources to facilities to students of all stripes to occupational health and safety to scientists to software developers to machinists to catering and everyone in between - we are an organization unified by the goal of facilitating and advancing world class science. It is a privilege to work with the people here, and to know that they appreciate me as much as I appreciate them.

3. How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?

Show them themselves in those roles in pop culture. When there’s a random scientist in a movie who points to a screen and says a single line of dialog just to advance the plot, make it an underrepresented person. That’s a very small change that will have a very outsized impact. When laboratories send consultants to Hollywood to help them make their movie science more realistic, their price should be the inclusion of diverse faces in the background of the science scenes - if they can’t outright negotiate those faces up front and center. The reason women and other minorities don’t see themselves in STEM is because our culture doesn’t see them there - and no amount of fellowships is going to change that. If we made an effort to just see them there in the casual background, it would go a long way to helping them see themselves there.

4. Do you have tips you would recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?

Question orthodoxy relentlessly - scour it from your mind. Perturb tradition whenever you can - tradition is the antithesis of scientific progress. An academic advisor is /not/ the same thing as a mentor, make sure you get both even if they end up being different people. Grades honestly do not matter as much as passion, I swear to you they don't. Practice failing at something every day - practice preserving your self respect in the face of failure, practice not taking failure personally, practice planning for failure, practice moving on from failure. Respect everyone you meet at every rung on the ladder for how they enable you to do what you love, and enable them whenever you can.

5. When you have free time, what are your hobbies?

Rock climbing and guitar playing. Reading and writing. Video games and learning electronics. Gardening and dog care. Obsessing about airplanes and cooking difficult cuisine.