Abbie Neilson – An uncommon career path

Abbie Neilson – An uncommon career path

A complete change of direction

I wondered what it was about this person that made him so influential in helping Abbie to make this dramatic turnaround in viewpoint after so long following one train of thought.

I came to realise that by being totally focused on one goal, I was missing out on many other opportunities and interesting experiences.

‘He was one of those characters who seemed to do everything and was good at everything. His course was just one thing; he had a hundred different hobbies and he was part of ten different societies. So, he had many, many strings to his bow. To him, if one of those strings was to snap it didn’t matter. Whereas I had one string at that point and it wasn’t a very wholesome existence. I came to realise that by being totally focused on one goal, I was missing out on many other opportunities and interesting experiences. I joined the salsa society in my second year, as a result of that conversation.’

Abbie went on to complete her degree in Biomedical Sciences at Newcastle University, obtaining first-class honours, before going on to do a PhD in cell biology at the University of Leeds in 2013. Learn more about her time at Newcastle here.

Exploring new avenues

She also met her partner, Chris Jaume, at Newcastle in her second year, which was clearly a life-changing event since they travelled the world together and are now in business together running an award-winning distillery in Yorkshire. Abbie is not a doctor now and is not working in biomedical science, although there is a strong science element to her distilling of spirits, along with a certain artistry, which produces something unique. I asked her to look back on the sequence of events leading up to this current place in her life and found that it arose in large degree from her travelling experiences.

‘One year into my PhD, I began to dislike being in a laboratory and eventually lost my mojo for the work. Although the science was interesting, there was a little outlet for self-expression and creativity and I felt something was lacking. I no longer wanted to pursue a research career and I almost quit the PhD. Family and friends persuaded me to continue, but I began to look at alternative careers.

Although the science was interesting, there was a little outlet for self-expression and creativity and I felt something was lacking. I no longer wanted to pursue a research career and I almost quit the PhD.

A PhD gives you a multitude of transferable skills: public speaking, resilience, self-awareness and self-direction. I didn’t want to waste the skills I had acquired after seven years of study, so I explored more creative jobs, such as museum curator or my (then) dream job, medical artist. To pursue the latter, another degree was required but I didn’t have enough energy to go back to study. Instead, I decided to take a step back from career-hunting for the time being and continued with my PhD, graduating in 2013. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I was thoroughly worn out at the end of 4 years.’

When plan B becomes plan A

‘I was living in Leeds with my partner at the time I graduated and those around us were buying houses and starting families. After so many years of study, we weren’t ready to settle just yet. We were ready for a change. So, we quit our jobs and spent our savings on one-way tickets to Australia in search of an adventure!

It was the trip of a lifetime! For two years we visited some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes. Backpacking was interspersed with fruit picking to earn dollars and we volunteered on homestays via HelpX, experiencing some lifestyles very different from our own. Being among the great outdoors and living a nomadic lifestyle away from textbooks and deadlines, I was able to step out of the rat race and find some headspace. Chris and I talked about working together and dreamed up weird and wonderful business ideas to pass the time.

While working a stint on a Tasmanian orchard, a nearby distillery won the sought-after accolade of producing the World’s Best Single Malt Whisky.