Sandra Richards

Am at work and so I will get straight onto your Qs when I get home at 5 :D

Favourite Thing: Give people answers to why they are sick, so they can get treatment and get better



University of Greenwich 2002-2006. University of Kent 2008-2009


BSc HONS Biomedical sciences, MSc Science, Communication and Society. MSM MIBMS CBiol CSci

Work History:

I have been in the fire service, the Army and hospital labs.

Current Job:

Biomedical Scientist in Cellular Pathology – histology/cytology


Oxford University NHS Trust

Me and my work

I chop up body parts. I also look at cervical cells under the microscope to see if a woman’s cervix is healthy or not. I also spin lots of wee

I work in a hospital lab, we receive organs and tissues such as skin, colon, breasts etc from operating theatres and we chop them up, and then cut them really thinly, slap it on a microscope slide, add some colour then look at it under the microscope. We look to see what the cells were doing the very moment they were removed from the body and why the patient is sick, and we help the clinicians to make a diagnosis so they can treat the patient in the best way. Hopefully we can help to cure them.

Our lab also carries out post mortems, this is where the doctors look inside the body and take tissue samples from organs so we can cut them, stain them, slap them on microscope slides and by looking at those cells it can be worked out why they died 🙁

Though mainly I am sat at a microscope. This is because women of a certain age have what’s called a ‘cervical smear’, this means taking a few cells from their cervix (which is just above the vagina) (stop giggling!), we add some colour to those cells and look at them under the microscope. What we look for is anything that looks different from the ‘normal’ – whether that be due to an infection, or because the cells have turned bad and have started to grow abnormally.

I sit there and have a disccusion in my head with myself – Does the pattern of cells look right for her age? Where is she in her monthly menstrual cycle ? Are there any hormones she’s taking? Is there any infection, is that why the cell nuclei look a bit big? Or are they abnormal and that’s why the nucleus looks odd?

 I love ‘screening’ slides – sometimes we see some really exotic things that are ot often seen, such as the egg of a pin worm parasite. These are quite rare so we get a bit excited and everyone gathers round to have a look. Also by sharing our exotic findings we can learn about what we’re seeing, rather than having only seen it in a text book.

 It’s really fun the way some cells can form a shape, you know like with sometimes clouds can look like cool things such as dogs or cars? Well sometimes white blood cells gather up in a way that makes them look like fun things. Last week we had a chicken! The cells gathered together and it looked just like a chicken. We all gathered round for a look and a laugh then took it to our medical illustrator who took a photo for us.

 We also had a Christmas tree shape, a dragon and smiley faces. Cells are pretty funny!

And very pretty. They take up stains very well – we see pink ones, blue ones, green ones, orange ones, ones that are a bit of pink and orange, or pink and blue mixed together.

Being a scientist doesn’t have to be boring or super dooper serious, we do laugh too! (we also eat a lot of cake).



My Typical Day

Look at slides and spin wee.

I start at 8.30am and I look on the rota to see what Iam doing that day. For example I might be in  ‘non gynae prep’. In my lab we have 2 types of tasks- gynae and non gynae. We deal with cells and body fluids, that have either come from the female genital track or not.


Non gynae prep is all the other fluids – wee, spit, fluids from around the lungs, or from the spine. We have to spin them in a centrifuge so that we can get rid of fluid we dont want and just get the cells. Then we need to put those cells onto a microscope slide and stain them. If we didn’t stain them, then we wouldn’t be able to see them under the microscope. Then we send those slides to the pathologist to look at.


With the gynae, we are trained to make a diagnosis on these slides ourselves. When they are negative and nice and normal and healthy, then we can report these, they are then chekced by a senior and we sign them out ourselves. If we see anything that the we believe to be abnormal, the we send them to a senior scientist for a 2nd opinion and then to the pathologist. Which means 3 of us look at an abnormal slide.

Those that are abnormal are sent for High Risk HPV testing (girls, you may know about HPV already from the vaccines you had?).

I also work in an out patients clinic – we see patients that have lumps in their thyroid (in the neck) or in their breast – both male and female patients. The pathologist doctor will pop a tiny needle in and draw out a few cells. And guess what…? Yup, we put them on microscope slides and stain them, so they can be seen under the microscope. 

I really like seeing patients, most of my time is in a lab where there are only samples, but in clinic I see real life people.

What I'd do with the money

Spend it on girly bling and shoes…

Nah not really, actually, I’d really like to educate females about the importance of cervical screening. But also working in pathology I would like to run some work shops on anatomy of the body and have some great hands on fun with body parts and maybe do some dissection? Maybe we can have some lab time together, do some staining? I’m not entirely certain yet, but it won’t be boring!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Marillion. How many of you have older sisters called Kaleigh?? (also Pink Floyd, Genesis -anything prog/classick rock).

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Driven tanks and massive trucks when I was in the Army.

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

Fabulously beautiful, fabulously rich and a fabulous well respected scientist.

What did you want to be after you left school?

fire fighter and a scientist! I acheived both of those :) I was the first female Fire Fighter in Kent – 1991.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

I had a detention on my first day of secondary school…this never seem to end. So yeah, I was in the Head’s office more than she was.

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

So many cool things – getting qualified for one thing! Wrote some articles. Stuck my hands in mucky colons. All good fun.

Tell us a joke.

Other stuff

Work photos:

You see the moon pic on my desktop? I took that pic through my telescope. In my back garden. Nice huh?


 This was me on the Lord Mayor’s Procession in November, we were promoting the Institute of Biomedical Science.


This is a picture I took of a Lyrid meteor.


This is the same night, I took hundreds of pics, then stacked them one on top of the other and you get star trails. The stars stay still but the Earth rotates, so it loks as if the stars are turning, but its us!

myimage4 myimage5