INTERVIEW: Ali Baird – ‘research to goldsmith’

There can often be a focus on prescribed pathways through scientific careers, however few experiences truly follow a linear trajectory. Here is an example of an evolving work / life path that stopped off within Biosciences for many productive years before hitting upon an interesting new direction… in Ali’s case literally ‘going for gold’…


Contributed by Ali Baird

My research life began way; way back in 1991 when I accepted a job as a junior technician in Pharmacology at EdinburghUniversityMy original contract was a permanent one but things changed when I moved in 1994 to the School of Psychology in Cardiff. The move was for personal reasons and brought with it a new role as a research technician with the inevitable change in contract status to short-term. During my time in Psychology my role varied from research technician to research assistant depending on the funding available and at the end of 1999 I moved to the School of Biosciences, as ever I was following the funding.

I started life in Biosi as a research assistant, running behavioural experiments with Paul Chapman but in early 2000 I joined Steve Dunnett’s newly formed Brain Repair team as his lab manager and there I stayed until leaving Cardiff in 2011.

Biosi Views

View from BIOSI out over a Wintery Cardiff – taken by Ali Baird (also a talented photographer)

I can honestly say that I enjoyed my time working within universities and that I have been privileged to work with excellent scientists and fantastic researchers. My own background is not scientific but that has never held me back. My first impression of Cardiff University will always remain with me, and it typified my whole experience of working there. I had just arrived in Psychology and was waiting for my partner outside his office when the head of school Hadyn Ellis walked by, stopped and invited me to join them at the ‘welcome party’ for new PhD students & staff. We had never met before yet he knew my name and welcomed me to the department. That for me symbolises my experience of Cardiff both in Biosi & Psychology, I was always welcomed and encouraged to become part of the team I was working with as well as the department as a whole.

My reason for leaving Biosi in 2011 was a personal one and it required a move to London. The move created a role for me working as an admin assistant for my husbands’ company Sandown Scientific. Sandown is the European distributor for a number of companies focussing mainly on behavioural research in the neuroscience field. My role involves admin but also working on trade stands at conferences and meeting with both our suppliers and customers. It’s a role that I easily fulfil utilising the skills learnt as both researcher and lab manager. Those of you that visit SfN regularly will find me on the Med Associates stand alongside the team from Med.

Gold flared ring2

An example of Ali’s work – part of her progression to becoming a goldsmith

Over the last 3 years and with an eye to the future I have also been working on my own little business around the ‘day’ job for Sandown. I have always had a passion for jewellery, in fact one of my earliest memories is jewellery related, and what started as a hobby has become a dream goal which might actually be attainable! I am currently studying 2 days a week (funded by my ‘day’ job) in the jewellery quarter of London at Holts Academy to obtain professional qualifications in jewellery manufacture & 2D design. The transition from researcher to goldsmith is not as strange as it sounds as both require dedication, effort and attention to detail if you want to succeed. Sometimes it feels like I am on a constant treadmill with 3 days of ‘day’ job admin, 2 days of college plus working on jewellery commissions at the weekend but my ultimate gaol makes it all worthwhile. My dream is to be able to call myself a goldsmith, using the traditional definition of ‘a metalworker who specializes in working with gold and other precious metals’ and I am on my way!

As of yet I don’t feel that I have jumped out of science as I have still have a toe in the water via my ‘day’ job. One day in the future I hope to dry that toe off, but not because my science experience has been something I wanted to escape, but because I have found something I want even more.


More about Ali:

Ali Baird

Ali is a former Research Assistant with the Division of Neurosciences (1999-2011).

If you’d like to know more about her  journey from research to goldsmith you can read about it on her blog over on her website www.alisonbairdjewellerydesigner.com (on her website you can find links to her business Facebook page, which also updates her story from bead craft through to gold work, to diamonds and more).