Jan. 4, 2022

New science dean looks forward to playing role in UCalgary’s ‘transformative’ forward-focused strategy

Q-and-A with Kristin Baetz
Kristin Baetz
Kristin Baetz

Dr. Kristin Baetz, PhD, begins her term as the dean of the Faculty of Science this week. Joining the University of Calgary from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa, she has built an impressive career with a wealth of leadership experience, research excellence, and numerous accolades.

To complement her professional accomplishments, Baetz brings sincere passions for science and advocacy to her role as dean.

 As she embarks on her five-year term, Baetz is looking forward to developing relationships across the UCalgary community and championing science as a key component of Calgary and Alberta’s economic growth.

Q: What drew you to the Faculty of Science at the University of Calgary?

A: I’m honestly very excited to be joining the University of Calgary. I love science, and now I’ll have so many opportunities to connect with different facets of this discipline. As a yeast systems biologist, I love to explore all avenues and learn new things. This is my dream science job — I find it fascinating that I can learn about everything from marine aquatics to new batteries, data science, and space research. The world is not even the limit!

I’m also looking forward to being on a university campus. I've been at a hospital location ever since my days as a postdoc. The Faculty of Medicine at uOttawa was quite a distance from the main campus, and I have missed feeling part of vibrant university campus. I feel like much of the fun and excitement of being at a university is being among the students and attending events like the Drama for Our New World Series at the School of Creative and Performing Arts. I’m even looking forward to being close to an amazing gym facility and taking a fencing class. 

Q: How did you become a yeast researcher?

A: As a fourth-year undergraduate thesis student, I was flipping through the back of Science magazine and I saw an ad for yeast researchers at Heineken. It sparked my interest in yeast and got me wondering how you could become a yeast researcher. Then I was given an amazing opportunity to do my PhD work with Brenda Andrews, one of the world’s leading yeast researchers at University of Toronto. I learnt yeast research isn’t limited to beer, wine and bread — but that yeast is a powerful biomedical model organism. It has inspired my lifelong love of yeast.

Q: Why is yeast so important to scientific research?

In many ways, yeast is one of the first domesticated “animals.” People have exploited yeast to make beer, wine, and bread for thousands of years, so you would probably never think that it's like us. But when you really get down to the actual genome, the proteins, the pathways and basic cell biology, like the nucleus and the mitochondria, human and yeast cells are not that far apart!

When it comes to research, one of the advantages is that we can make quick discoveries using yeast as it is easy to manipulate and fast to grow. Then we take what we learned in yeast and apply it to our knowledge of human cell biology and disease. Remarkably the vast majority of the time, discoveries made in yeast are directly translatable to human cell biology. For example, right now in my lab we are using yeast to understand how lipid or fat metabolism contributes to the shape or morphology of the nucleus  — which is dysregulated in many cancers. 

We're not just using yeast for research on human diseases or basic mechanisms of cell biology. We can now use it as a sort of microbial cell “factory.” We all know that yeast are great at making alcohol and carbon dixode for beer, wine and bread, but did you know we can harness yeast make other things? We are finding ways to adapt yeast cells to make more things for us, such as drug compounds, biofuels and other chemicals. It’s quite amazing what we can have fungi do for us.

Q: What are some of the UCalgary and Faculty of Science initiatives that you’re most excited to join?

A: Potentially the most transformative thing for the University of Calgary is the commitment to research and breaking down silos. In Growth Through Focus, I see the university moving into transdisciplinary research in a truthful and real way. It will be a game changer to have a culture which values and operationalizes collaborations across fields and disciplines. Our biggest challenges cannot be answered by a single researcher, or even by a single discipline. It will take not just scientists and engineers, but economists, social scientists, and business leaders. Similarly, creating the true leaders and disruptors of tomorrow will require us to re-imagine our academic programs as different skills are required. It is truly exciting to be joining at the start of the Growth Through Focus journey. 

I truly believe that the Alberta and Calgary economies are built on science. They’re committed to science, to innovation, and to discovery. You can see that just watching the news already. There are so many new companies coming to the region, and they need scientists and technology. Science goes hand-in-hand with the growth of the university and the city, which is unlike other major centres. The opportunities and the impact that science can have on the greater community are endless. I’m really looking forward to learning about, and working with, our growing number of startups and innovators. I can’t wait to get out into the community and see our work in action. 

I am also excited to be joining an institution that is deeply committed to equity, diversity, and inclusion, and is well on its path to truth and reconciliation. We need “all brains on deck” to answer the world’s most pressing problems. I am committed to creating an inclusive faculty where diverse ideas and ways of knowing are not just valued but celebrated. 

Q: What is something you would like the University of Calgary community to know about you?

A: I sincerely want to learn all about what the different groups are doing, from students to senior leadership to everything in between. I'm here to learn about you, your passions and your ideas. Feel free to come talk to me, introduce yourself, invite me to your lab or event — I’m here to be your advocate and your champion. We are going to go on an amazing journey together, so let’s get to know each other.