Alumni Spotlight: Laura Burns, Brewmaster

by Andrew Wiese, Graduate Student

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Cell biologist turned brewmaster, Dr. Laura Burns, left an academic-centered career path three years ago for the opportunity to pursue her passion for fermentation and beer creation. Taking advantage of a unique opportunity, Dr. Burns turned a side project of establishing the laboratory and yeast program at Tennessee Brew Works into a full-time position as the company's Brewmaster and Director of Quality Assurance. Dr. Burns credits her time at Vanderbilt University for helping her create a yeast program that is unique to Tennessee Brew Works. 

Instead of "praying to the yeast gods," Dr. Burns' scientific expertise has informed the creation of a tight, consistent fermentation process that ultimately improves and differentiates the product from competitors. Even as she is raining the profile of Tennessee Brew Words in the Nashville brewery science, Dr. Burns finds ways to combine her work with her other interests. This is most evident in the yoga class hosted weekly at Tennessee Brew Works known as "The Hair of the Downward Dog."

Recently, Dr. Burns allowed the BRET Results and Discussion Newsletter to document a day in her life...

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In July 2016, Dr. Burns moved to Chicago with her husband, Mike – a resident at Northwestern University - to start a new position as the Quality Assurance Lead and Brewer at Great Central Brewing Company. 

Great Central Brewing Company is a full service company that works with individual craft brewers in Chicago to bridge gaps in their production, assist in recipe development, and to help each brewer meet the demand for their product by providing resources for a higher level of production than would be possible on their own.  In her new position, Dr. Burns ensures the quality of the brewing process for each craft beer, is in charge of the yeast management program, and remains involved in the actual brewing process as well.

In the short time she has been at Great Central Brewing Company, she already has her laboratory up and running to test daily samples of each craft beer to check for contamination and inefficiencies in the brewing process.  She also regularly has the opportunity to meet and establish connections with local customers and vendors.  She was able to accomplish all of this immediately before and since the birth of her son, Cameron, all thanks to the healthy work/life balance encouraged by her new company.  


Although switching jobs and moving to Chicago while starting a new family might seem like a daunting task to some, Dr. Burns credited her PhD from Vanderbilt for improving her marketability and giving her a boost when trying to get her foot in the door at new companies.  “Although PhDs are hyper-focused on the science side, companies recognize that the skills can be highly translatable, and they definitely respect the work ethic it took to earn,” said Dr. Burns. “It really makes you marketable in anything.” 

Many thanks to Andrew Wiese, PhD candidate in Epidemiology, for writing this article.