Prof Sarah Gilbert: Kettering-born scientist given prestigious award for Oxford vaccine

  • ITV Anglia's Becky Jago spoke to Professor Sarah Gilbert about the award, vaccine and her career.

The professor who created the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine has said a top honour she has been given is "recognition" for the work her whole team have done over the past year.

Kettering-born Sarah Gilbert, who was an undergraduate at the University of East Anglia in Norfolk, was the lead researcher on the Oxford vaccine team.

She has been awarded the Albert Medal for her work, which is given annually to someone who has made a positive contribution to society and has previously been awarded to Sir Winston Churchill and Sir Stephen Hawking.

Prof Gilbert said it was "really exciting" for her personally, adding: "I think its recognition not just of what I’ve done but its what the whole team working on this vaccine has done over the last year or so."

Sarah was the lead researcher on the Oxford vaccine team. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Prof Gilbert, who is a Professor of Vaccinology at Oxford University, has been recognised for her services to collaborative innovation for the global common good. 

"I always wanted to work in medical research and do something that through science and through research would improve human health", she told ITV News Anglia.

"I’m very pleased that I’ve finally been able to do that after many many years of research."

However, Prof Gilbert revealed there was a point earlier in her career when she was on the brink of giving up science.

She said: "It's difficult to have a career in science, there are stages where things aren’t going well, there are difficulties in getting research done.

"But I had a good think about it, I thought about doing something else instead, decided I really wanted to give it another go and I’m very glad now I stuck with it."

Prof Gilbert has triplets, and said her experience raising them gave her the confidence to take on challenges in her professional life.

She said: "If you can get through bringing up very young children, three of them all at the same age, while still working full time and maintaining a career then you know you can do difficult things.

"It's very difficult to do something like that, but women do that kind of thing, and I think we should then allow that to give us confidence that we can do more difficult things at other parts of our career."

She's the 156th recipient of the medal, which was instituted in 1864 as a memorial to Prince Albert, former President of the Society.  

Previous recipients range from scientists to artists to social campaigners, including:

  • Winston Churchill in 1945 for leading the allies to victory

  • Marie Curie in 1910 for the discovery of radium

  • Alexander Graham Bell in 1902 for the invention of the telephone

  • Stephen Hawking in 1999 for improving public awareness of physics

  • Tim Berners-Lee in 2002 for the creation of the World Wide Web

The Medal will be awarded in a pre-recorded ceremony, which will be broadcast on April 14 at 6pm as part of the Royal Society of Arts' Living Change campaign.