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Sarah Wagstaffe is Head of the Translational Research Office (TRO) in the Medical Sciences Division. In this role, Sarah is responsible for delivering support to translational research projects, ensuring the progression of basic, biomedical and clinical research towards therapies, techniques and medical products with therapeutic value. We talk to Sarah about her role in this newly established team.

Please can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what attracted you to this position?

Following four years at Imperial College I am excited to be back at Oxford! At Imperial my role was to lead the implementation of the Faculty of Medicine’s Research Strategy - a major constituent of this being the development and support of the vibrant translational research portfolio. Working in close partnership with Imperial Innovations, the NIHR Imperial BRC and Business Development Teams, we created a pipeline of opportunities for funding and partnership for researchers. Coming back to Oxford armed with this knowledge and a mandate to support and develop the portfolio of translational programmes through the implementation of the new TRO was an easy decision to make! 

What is your vision for the TRO?

That’s an easy question for me - I want the TRO to be the first place that a researcher calls upon when they are thinking about how to take the outputs of their basic research programmes forward! The team can offer a broad range of support – from designing an initial roadmap towards clinical/commercial implementation to helping select appropriate funding schemes and drafting applications. We will be there to help every step of the way, easing the administrative burden of project management and reporting activities for these milestone-driven projects. We have recently recruited two Translational Research Managers who will join the team in the Autumn – I am excited about what this additional capacity will allow us to achieve. I hope we will continue to grow as a function alongside the academic demand.

What’s currently at the top of your to do list?

Getting out there and engaging with the community – researchers, our internal stakeholders such as Oxford University Innovation, as well as our external funders and collaborators. This is allowing me to understand the Oxford ecosystem and to identify suitable opportunities to exploit! We have also just closed this years’ Medical and Life Sciences Translational Fund to applications and have received a fantastic response, more than doubling the volume of applications from the same call last year. Our Committee meets in a few weeks’ time to allocate funding and we will be focussing effort on supporting these researchers in the coming months, alongside any additional projects which arise from across the University.

How did you get to where you are today?

I have taken a fairly winding path to my new role at Oxford! After an undergraduate Chemistry degree in Cardiff, I trained as a Clinical Biochemist in London. I found my way back to academia, specifically to Imperial College, when I decided to undertake my PhD in the Department of Materials in 2006. Following a relatively short research career at the Universities of Oxford and Liverpool, I made the jump to research administration in 2011. It was just a year into my role at BBSRC that I realised that the jump had been too far for my liking and I took the first opportunity that arose to return – I joined Oxford as Research Development Manager (Major Bids) in the MPLS Division. My role at MPLS was challenging and rewarding – working on a diverse portfolio ranging from quantum physics to therapeutic drug delivery! The opportunity to move to Imperial as Head of Research Strategy came in 2014 and I relished the opportunity of returning to the College where I had spent many happy years studying for my PhD. 

Who or what inspires you? 

Scientific discovery generally – I have been fortunate enough to spend the majority of my career at two world-class institutions and witnessed some ground-breaking research. Whilst no longer at the bench myself, helping others to fully realise the impact of their research is what motivates me.

If you weren’t Head of the Translational Research Office, what would you like to be doing?

Over the years my answer to this question would have changed frequently – I have often wondered what a commercial role would have been like or perhaps a longer-term science policy career. Having recently returned to work following maternity leave, my answer at present would genuinely be to spend more time with my young babies!!