Sara Sawyer, Ph.D.

Dr. Sawyer has received national and international prizes in virology. In 2011 she was the recipient of the PECASE award from President Obama at the White House. She serves as a Senior Editor at eLIFE, and as a consultant on the topic of pandemic preparedness. In 2020, she co-founded Darwin Biosciences, a diagnostics company located in Boulder, CO.

BioFrontiers Institute, Dept. of MCDB
University of Colorado Boulder

Chemical Engineering. University of Kansas

Genetics and Development, Cornell University

Fred Hutchinson Cancer, Research Center

Sara’s Mentors


Sara’s undergraduate research mentor, Dr. Trung Van Nguyen, University of Kansas, Chemical Engineering


Sara’s undergraduate mentor, Dr. Paul Enos, University of Kansas, Geology


Sara with her first virology mentor, Dr Volker Vogt, Cornell University


Sara with her postdoctoral advisor, Dr. Harmit Malik, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle


Sara with her postdoctoral co-advisor, Dr. Michael Emerman, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle


Sara with Irene Eckstrand, the NIH program officer (now retired) that awarded her first R01.


Sara receiving 2011 PECASE from President Obama at the White House:


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, she worked with Drs. Harmit Malik and Michael Emerman in Seattle, Washington. She then served as an Assistant Professor at UT Austin before moving to the University of Colorado Boulder.

Message to Potential Trainees

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.

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.”

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.

A Favorite Quote

“When I was a kid, there was really only one existential threat the world faced. The threat of a nuclear war. By the late 1990s, most reasonable people had come to accept that climate change represented another major threat to humankind.

I view the threat of deadly pandemics right up there with nuclear war and climate change.

Innovation, cooperation, and careful planning can dramatically mitigate the risks presented by each of these threats.”

– Bill Gates

A Favorite Quote

(Regarding the HIV/AIDS Pandemic)

“They’ll never know that feeling, what it’s like to love without worrying that you’re going to die… or, worse yet, that you are going to kill somebody.

I don’t know what’s shittier, having that freedom taken away or never having had it to begin with.

Either way, ain’t no going back now.”

– Pray-Tell on the FX Series “Pose”