Kristin Baetz would love to see more women in science

By Alyson Queen – 

When you walk toward Kristin Baetz’s home, you’re welcomed by twinkling tree lights that brighten up a dreary mid winter.  Once you’re through the front door, you’re greeted by the charms of a busy house and a very inquisitive dog named Charlotte.

“Life is chaotic but in a good way.” That’s how Kristin describes her world being a mother to Duncan (11) and Isla (8), scientist, professor, and community volunteer.

A professor at the University of Ottawa in the Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology, Kristin is also the Canada Research Chair in Chemical and Functional Genomics.

More recently, she was named the Director of the Ottawa Institute of Systems Biology, which is a research-intensive institution of more than 30 scientists from U of O and Carleton.

To simplify a very complex subject matter, Kristin is trying to build bigger and better research for the Ottawa region, in a new and innovative way. But she readily admits that it isn’t an easy field, especially for women.

Kristin Baetz with her daughter Isla. Photo by Alyson Queen

“To be successful and get to the stage of professor is incredibly challenging and competitive. I think my department has done a good job of getting more women into the field, but it’s still a challenge because women often self-select out and we’re a long way off from true equity.”

Originally from Toronto, Kristin clearly has had the drive and motivation to pursue her passions. Her husband, Doug, has also been a strong supporter of her career and their family.

The road to becoming an independent researcher is a long one and many women disappear from the field when they want to start a family.

“The myth of having it all can be overwhelming and results in a lot of young female scientists saying ‘how can I have a demanding, competitive career along with a family?’ I have yet to hear a male colleague ask these questions.

“My advice is always to go for it and do not limit yourself. You can find ways to make things work. It may not be Martha Stewart perfect, but life isn’t perfect.”

Having lived in Ottawa for 10 years, Kristin is well known for getting things done and being a part of her community.

She recently helped spearhead a campaign for the Civic Hospital Neighbourhood Association, to slow drivers’ speeds on Fairmont Avenue.

“We’re trying to find ways of calming traffic, making sure that people are stopping and that it’s safe for people at the park.”

If that didn’t make life busy enough, she is also volunteering her expertise on the national level as President of the Canadian Society for Molecular Biosciences, a volunteer organization of about 1200 researchers across Canada.

“We’re really trying to make the government understand the importance of funding research in Canada. It’s absolutely critical. If we don’t fund basic research, we’ll never see true innovation and knowledge.”

As for advice for the younger generation, she really wants to encourage more women to enter the sciences.

“Being a scientist is an amazing and creative career. You never do the same thing twice in a day. I really hope more girls continue on and pursue it.”

For the Ottawa 32nds where she was a Beaver leader for five years, there will likely be a number of young people who are surprised to learn about the full life that she leads.

Known always as Ringtail, and her husband as Rusty, she says that the kids “probably have no clue that we have real jobs – or real names for that matter.”

But if you’re Kristin Baetz, as a mom, professor, wife, scientist, dog owner, activist, volunteer and Ringtail – that just helps keep things grounded and certainly, never dull.

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