Principal's Medal Salma Ali

Presented by Professor Dame Sally Mapstone DBE, FRSE

Wednesday 15 June - morning ceremony

I should now like to introduce the Principal’s Medal. This award was inaugurated thirteen years ago with a gift from three anonymous donors and is supported by Ede and Ravenscroft, believed to be the oldest firm of tailors and robe-makers in the world. The award of the Principal’s Medal recognises students who display exceptional endeavour and achievement during their time at St Andrews. The awards are open to final-year undergraduates and postgraduates in any discipline, and the achievements celebrated are both academic and extra-curricular.

For the academic year 2021 to 2022, the Principal’s Medal is being awarded to two outstanding students. Today we recognise Salma Ali, who has just received the degree of Master of Biochemistry with Honours – and I am pleased to note that she received a very strong first-class degree.

Salma’s nomination references her formidable intellectual accomplishments: she made the Dean’s List for outstanding academic achievement in each year of study, and she has just graduated with one of the most distinguished academic profiles of her entire class. Salma’s nominator writes that she can, and I quote, ‘be ranked amongst the very best students ever to have taken a Biological degree at the University of St Andrews.’ 

Salma’s excellence in the classroom has been replicated in professional environments, and her degree programme incorporated a one-year external placement which she spent in the Cell Line Development team at AstraZeneca in Cambridge last academic year – a competitive option, and one which resulted in an acclaimed undergraduate dissertation. Salma has undertaken other external, non-credit-bearing research placements: as an Amgen Scholar at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, in 2019; as a research assistant in a neurogenetics lab at our University in the 2019 to 2020 academic year; and, for the past year, as a researcher under the supervision of the Head of the School of Biology, Professor Frank Gunn-Moore. It is the synergy of her remarkable theoretical comprehension with her fluency in professional environments that led to Salma’s nominator concluding, and I quote again, that ‘Salma is amongst the most gifted undergraduate students that I have ever encountered in over 30 years of teaching at UC Berkeley, [the] University of Cambridge, and [the] University of St Andrews.’

Such attainments are laudable in their own right, but they dazzle when contextualised by the breadth of Salma’s other contributions to our University, particularly her support for fostering diverse and inclusive academic environments. In the 2019 to 2020 academic year, Salma participated in the Global Challenges Programme as a researcher and strategist answering the question ‘How can we make St. Andrews a beacon of inclusivity.’ Not only did Salma win the Programme, but she has since consolidated her findings by Co-Founding and Chairing the BAME Biology Team within our School of Biology in 2020, a network of students and researchers that organises activities designed to promote antiracist and inclusive cultures, and which has been recognised as best practice and replicated in other Schools. Salma served also as a member of the School of Biology’s Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee, and in 2021 she joined the EDI Advisory Panel of The Biochemical Society – an international learned society, and on which panel she is the only student member. 

Salma models excellence whilst embodying a generous, inclusive, and passionate outlook that is an inspiration to her peers and tutors alike. Salma, in recognition of your many accomplishments both academically and personally during your time as an undergraduate, it gives me great pleasure to bestow upon you the Principal’s Medal. 

Professor Sally Mapstone presenting Salma Ali with the Principal's Medal