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A day in the life: Director of brewing and distilling studies

Dr Dawn Maskell’s students are busy developing your next favourite tipple

Q. How long have you been in your job?

I have been at Heriot-Watt University for nearly eight years and I have been director for nearly four years.

Q. What is it about your job that gets you out of bed in the morning?

The variety. I can be doing anything with my day as the International Centre for Brewing & Distilling (ICBD) is the home of both undergraduate and postgraduate taught programmes, as well as research and industry engagement – as director I have oversight of everything we do.

Q. What’s the first thing you do when you get into work?

Check my email. With independent distance learning students all around the world, and a joint education partnership with a university in China it is common for my inbox to be quite full first thing.

Q. Who are the two or three people you talk to on a daily basis?

My directors of study for our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes – we are a small team of academics with a relatively large group of on-campus and independent distance learning students. Regular communication is key to the smooth running of the centre.

Q. What’s the best thing about your job?

The brewing and distilling industry around the world is quite small, so it is quite easy for me to have a window on what many of my past students are doing now. To quote a former lecturer of mine, Professor Sir Geoff Palmer, there is nothing quite like looking at a shelf of beer in a bottle shop or a supermarket and being able to spot all the ones that your students have had a hand in making.

There is nothing quite like looking at a shelf of beer in a bottle shop or a supermarket and being able to spot all the ones that your students have had a hand in making

Q. And the worst?

That I am a graduate of one of the programmes that I am now caretaker of. We have a vibrant network of former students (The Watt Club: Brewing & Distilling) who all keep a keen eye on what I am up to and the changes I am making – as many of them are also my friends they are not afraid of telling me when they think I am getting things wrong.

Q. Your number one most vital prop/tool/piece of equipment?

A pen – it might be a fountain pen, whiteboard pen or the pen for my tablet, but I am much more effective if I can write things down (or draw them when I am teaching).

Q. How did you get into your job?

I did the BSc (Hons) brewing and distilling at Heriot-Watt as my undergrad degree and always loved the subject area, I returned to the university as a post-doctoral research associate in 2012 to work for a project on distillery by-product valorisation, since then it has been a matter of the right place at the right time to get to where I am now.

Q. What is it about your personality that makes you suitable for the role?

I like to think I am quite industry-focused which is important for managing all the relationships that are needed to make a centre like this work.

Q. Which five words sum up your typical day?

Busy, rewarding, challenging, beer, writing.

Q. If you weren’t in this role, what would you be?

Primary school teacher – I was at a crossroads 12 years ago and nearly went back to university to retrain. When my children were little I was a teaching assistant in reception and year 1 of a primary school and I did love working with children of those ages.


Dr Dawn Maskell is senior director of studies (brewing and distilling) and director of the International Centre for Brewing & Distilling at Heriot-Watt University

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