Nicola Wardrop

Sad that the event is over for me - I had great fun!

Favourite Thing: Making maps! It is kind of fun…its not really like work!



Madras College, St Andrews 1993 – 1999. University of Edinburgh, 1999 – 2003. University of California Santa Barbara, 2001 – 2002. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 2003 – 2004. University of Edinburgh (again) 2006 – 2010.


I have a BSc with honours in Medical Microbiology, an MSc in the Control of Infectious Diseases and a PhD

Work History:

While at school and uni I worked in some hotels and cafes. After my MSc I worked for the Health Protection Agency in London (they do a lot of disease surveillance – looking to see what is going on in the UK). I have also worked at Edinburgh University (research and some teaching of students) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (marking exams).

Current Job:

I am a research fellow – I do research on diseases which can spread from cows to people.


The University of Southampton – in the Geography and Environment department.

Me and my work

I use maps and statistics to look at diseases which spread from cows to people – I look at how the environment impacts on the number of people that get the disease.

I’m a spatial epidemiologist. Epidemiology looks at diseases in populations – so rather than looking at a single person to see if they have a disease, epidemiology looks at lots of people and tries to work out why some people get the disease and others don’t. This is what I do, but I also use maps and some different types of methods (spatial statistics) to understand why the diseases happen in some places and not others.

At the moment I am working on diseases which spread from animals (such as cows) to people – these are called zoonotic diseases. I want to see if people are at more risk of getting the diseases in different types of environment.

I’m working on quite a few different diseases in Kenya at the moment – some of them you might have heard of before (bovine tuberculosis, worms) and some you might not have heard of (sleeping sickness, rift valley fever). The diseases all have different symptoms in people and cows – some are deadly, but some just make the cows and people feel a bit unwell. Overall though, they mean that people lose money, which can cause a lot of problems in a poor area such as Kenya.

Hopefully the results from my research will help the Kenyan Government prevent people from getting infected with the diseases.

My Typical Day

I’m usually based at the computer, making maps, doing some statistics to analyse my data and writing about what I have done.

Normally I’d get up about 7, have breakfast and drive into work. When I get in, I’ll check through my emails first, and then start getting on with some data analysis – a lot of my work is computer based, so I will be doing things like making maps or using statistics to analyse data.

Sometimes I will need to learn more about the method I want to use, so I’ll do some reading during the day as well. After I have some results, I will spend time during the day writing about the work – what I did, what I found and what it all means.

Sometimes I also have meetings with other people in the department to talk about my work – the methods I am using, what results I have and what the next steps are – this helps me to think more clearly about what I am doing and lets me get help if I am not quite sure what to do next.

Other than that, I have lunch on the dot at 12.30 every day, then I head home at about 5 to relax!

What I'd do with the money

I would make a computer game about diseases spreading from animals to humans!

I have always wanted to make a computer game about infectious diseases! I would make it so that people can learn about how diseases spread from animals to people, how the environment can also be involved in this, and the different things that can be done to prevent people from catching the diseases – the challenge would be to stop people getting the disease!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Curious, greedy, idealist

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Today…Shed Seven (an indie band from the 90’s – the music of my teenage years!). Ask me tomorrow and you might get a different answer

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I went on a roadtrip from the UK to Turkey with my husband – we took a tent and visited 14 countries. It was really fun, because every day we saw or did something totally different…including visiting Dracula’s castle in Transylvania!

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

I wish that we could get a decent summer in the UK this year. I wish that time travel and/or teleportation could be invented, and I could have a personal portal. I wish that the job I have now would carry on as long as I wanted it to.

What did you want to be after you left school?

I wanted to be a microbiologist in a lab.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Not really in trouble much, but the teachers thought I wasn’t very clever and wouldn’t do very well in my exams.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I’m lucky that I study tropical diseases – it means I get to travel a lot. I have visited Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria to collect data – I think that is probably the best thing so far – you get to experience something totally different from your normal life.

Tell us a joke.

There were two fish in a tank. One turned to the other and said “Do you know how to drive this?”

Other stuff

Work photos:

I love my job because I also get to go on field work, which is normally in Kenya and Uganda. Sometimes it can be a bit tricky…here is a photo of us when we got stuck in the mud! The roads where I work are mainly pretty bad, and sometimes they don’t exist at all. Off road driving is quite exciting though 🙂


Sometimes when I go on fieldwork, I help out with the testing of large numbers of people for a disease (or more than one disease). My research will use the data which comes from surveys like this – I analyse the data after all the lab work has been done and we know which people have the disease. In this photo, we were testing people in Uganda for sleeping sickness – there was an army barracks nearby, so we were also testing lots of soldiers! myimage4

Entertainment in the evenings can be hard to find when we are on fieldwork. We sometimes stay in very small villages with no electricity or running water. We were lucky to find this bar which had a pool table when we were staying in this place for about a month. The cloth on the pool table was very torn and uneven, which made the game a bit more difficult, but it provided hours of fun for us! I called it assault pool, because the lumps and bumps on the table were like an assault course for the balls! myimage3