Sarah Gurr (née Smith) (Botany and Plant Technology 1980, PhD 1983) is a Professor of Food Security at Exeter University. Her time at Imperial taught her a huge amount and the experience still helps her today. Read about her inspiration and how she was lead to study a STEM subject at Imperial.

Why did you choose Imperial as the place to follow your interest in STEM subjects?

I found a book in the school library called “The Advance of The Fungi” written in 1940 by EC Large. I wanted to be a plant doctor and not a medic and Professor RKS Wood (Botany 1941, PhD 1949) was leading the world in this arena at Imperial. 

How did you find life at Imperial as a woman?

I had been to a boys school (13 girls and 700 boys) and was the only one studying sciences there. The balance of one woman to 12 men was better and I don’t think I have ever “suffered” but rather I have flourished in a competitive environment.

What did you learn during your time at Imperial, in class or out?

In the classroom, I learnt to communicate, to write and the value of maths. Outside, friendship. And A lot about wine!

Who did you find inspiring at Imperial?

Professor RKS Wood (Plant Pathology) and Professor Simon Perry (Civil Engineering).

What is your fondest memory of your time at Imperial?

Friendship and intellectual challenge.

Please tell us a bit about the work you’re doing now...

I am a Professor of Food Security at Exeter University. I moved here from the University of Oxford, where I held a Chair in Molecular Plant Pathology. I am interested in crop disease caused by fungi and disease modelling/molecular biology and fungal biotechnology. I collaborate with Professor Pietro Spanu and Professor Matt Fisher, who both work at Imperial. I co-wrote a paper on “emergence of antifungal resistance” with Matt which was published in Science in May this year.

How has what you learnt at Imperial helped you in your career so far?

By being articulate, numerate, aware of the needs of others and proud to mentor others, as I was well looked after at Imperial.

What have been your career highlights and lowlights?

Trying to juggle a full-time academic career whilst my girls were little and feeling the pressure to publish, publish, publish!

What are your plans for the future?

Enjoy being invited to speak around the world; enjoy being secure in my position and will eventually write two books about a) My life as a woman scientist b) Five plant disease that changed the world.

What makes you proud to be an Imperial alumna?

Because my time at the College endowed me with a future.

What one word or phrase would you use to describe Imperial alumni?