Sarah Clarke embarks on a new journey


Sarah Clarke has served as a lab research analyst in the Sequencing and Genomic Technologies (SGT) core facility since 2020. In January, she will be transitioning to a new position at the NC State Vector-Borne Disease Lab. She received her undergraduate degree in natural resource ecology from the University of Vermont in 2020.

How did you arrive at this position at Duke?

I was looking for jobs at the height of the pandemic, and the Duke Sequencing job stuck out to me because wildlife wasn't particularly funded during this time, but humans viruses were, so I decided to go the human virus route and had the luxury of joining the COVID project happening in SGT. I got to dive into library prep and sequencing, which wasn't even on my radar, but it's been a really awesome opportunity.


How have you grown as a scientist and researcher in this position?

I've definitely grown so much. I had only done undergrad research before this, and this was a whole new world. I didn't even consider sequencing or library prep to be a possibility. I had only done extractions before this, so it was such a learning curve, but it has given me a lot of new skills, and I've gotten to work with my fellow colleagues, researchers, and technical support for all our instruments. I've been able to both grow professionally and also with manual techniques in the lab, but also being able to use automated liquid handlers.

What has been your favorite part of this job?

This, like a lot of research jobs, is a service-based research job, so we're actively collaborating in people's research, and we have a lot of interface with the customers. It's been really cool to be involved with such a variety of projects with all different types of sample types and library prep. There's always something new to work on. It doesn't get repetitive at all. And with the COVID project, it was really cool to see real-time how the variants were progressing. I had a very unbiased view, being able to process it myself and have our data analysis bioinformatics people like tell us the data rather than getting information off the news. It was very rewarding to be able to help that and hopefully help inform some vaccine development as well.


What is it like working with state-of-the-art equipment?

Oh my god, it's amazing. I came from a dingy little basement lab from University of Vermont where we had to share all the pipettes, all the instruments there was, the ceiling was leaking, and then I came here and everything is state of the art. I've got my own bench space. I don't share with people. I've got my own pipettes. It's a really amazing facility. I've been very fortunate to work here. It's a really nice place.


Do you have a favorite piece of equipment to work with?

I got to use the SPT Lab Tech Mosquito and Dragonfly liquid handlers. Those are my babies. I use them during the entire COVID project and developed some scripts for another eighth volume reduced service we have. So those have been my two liquid handlers that I've pretty much solely worked on, and I love that they're both named after bugs.

What kind of growth have you seen in SGT since you arrived?

We've had a lot of growth with our services between getting the new updated sequencers for short read, Illumina sequencing, a long read PacBio and Oxford Nanopore. But also we just developed so many new extraction and library prep protocols that I feel like has been able to allow us to reach a larger customer base to aid in further research, which has been a really cool opportunity, especially over this past year or two. We've done a lot of more research and development to get new protocols out there to help people with all their custom projects. 

Is there anything else you think I should know?

I just want to say how appreciative I was of this position. The opportunities I've been given is not very often that you get to go right out of college and start a cool project on a pandemic that's happening everywhere, and I've had great colleagues that have been here every step of the way. So I'm just really grateful for my opportunities here.