Spotlight on Alexandra Brand

18 March 2016 - By: Sarah Blackford

Spotlight on Alexandra Brand

Alexandra Brand

By Sarah Blackford

“I love doing new things”, confesses Alex Brand, Royal Society Fellow and Reader at the University of Aberdeen. “I’m never frightened to take on something different and I think that’s always been with me”. 

Alex’s words are borne out by her actions; having left school at the age of 18, her career has weaved a varied and interesting path, taking her to many places around the world and doing all sorts of jobs.  Her first career was in advertising; after an early promotion to Account Executive, she was responsible for managing advertising campaigns for well-known global brands such as Pepsico, De Beers Diamonds, Beechams and Russell Hobbs. “My role at the agency was to bring together and coordinate diverse groups of people to produce something that the client was paying us to do”, explains Alex. A skill which, subsequently, has proved highly transferable into her scientific career; that is, bringing people together to generate an output which the funder is paying them to do! How then did she end up as an academic in the north of Scotland?

 “When I got married, I left my advertising career for what I thought was going to be just one year, however I never went back”, says Alex. “Instead, I followed my oil-industry husband around the world and took on different jobs wherever we went”. Finally, after being posted to Aberdeen, they decided to put down roots and buy a small-holding. It was at this point, with her children at secondary school age, that Alex pondered how to develop a whole new career. “It was very exciting”, she says, “I decided to go to university for the first time – but which degree to choose? I remember thinking: I can do anything!”

Having no qualifications, Alex signed up to do a Science Access course and so began an eye-opening revelation: “I had no idea how fantastic cell biology was; I loved learning about how cells worked, biochemistry, immunology and microbiology - I was like a child in a sweet shop!”  She decided to take a Biochemistry degree and it was during the final year that Alex was offered a PhD with the fungal group she had met through a biotechnology project. “I knew I wasn’t going to get another chance at a new career and I wanted to give it my best shot so I sold off the farm livestock and committed myself to ‘more than a 9 – 5  job’ for the next three years - and beyond as it turns out”, she adds, “although I didn’t know it then!”

Following on from her PhD, and during her first postdoctoral position, Alex applied for a University Research Fellowship with the Royal Society: “I had already learned some valuable lessons in life”, she says, “one in particular that stays with me is, just because there is a usual way of doing something doesn’t mean it’s the only way, or even the best way.  In science, as in life, unthinkingly following the norms means missing out on exciting new developments.” The primary focus of Alex’s research is fungi and how they interact with the environment on a physical level: “I’m developing microfluidics tools to study the behaviour of pathogenic versus non-pathogenic fungi”, she explains, adding that she is also investigating those which produce compounds with medicinal uses1.

With a large research group and numerous collaborations, Alex admits she may need to curb her enthusiasm for new things: “It’s very easy to get excited about your science and ‘put your hand up’ whenever a new project comes past, but I think I’ve reached my limit now!”

Research activities:

Category: Cell Biology
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Sarah Blackford

Sarah Blackford is the head of education and public affairs at the SEB and the editor of the SEB magazine. As a qualified careers adviser and MBTI practitioner, Sarah provides career development and support for SEB members and the wider scientific community. Sarah is also an active member within SEB+, focusing on a number of initiatives aimed at improving gender equality and diversity in the science field.