Interview with EURAXESS Science Slam North America 2014 Winner Kurtis Baute

Categories: Meet the researchers

Kurtis Baute is from rural Ontario, Canada. He holds a B.A. in Biology from Wilfrid Laurier University, and is currently finishing a M.Sc. candidate in Environmental Science at the University of Guelph.


Kurtis, please tell us about your research background and interests.

Currently, I’m trying to turn plants into power, by researching a form of renewable energy called ‘biogas’. It’s a super interesting field, but my passion for science communication has overhwhelmed me – it’s what I want to do next. I want to know what scientists can do to make their research more accessible, and that too will take research.

How did you learn about the EURAXESS Science Slam competition?

An email made its way through my university and reached me through a friend.

Why did you decide to participate?

I love making videos almost as much as I love science. Combine that with the fact that I don’t mind being a bit silly now and then, and submitting something to the competition became a no-brainer for me.

Please tell EURAXESS Links Newsletter readers about the live presentation that you made.

(The live presentation video can be watched online here.)

My live slam was one part audience participation, one part song, two parts nerdy science jokes, and six parts just having fun.

What was the message that you wanted to deliver to the audience attending the live finals?

I wanted to help the audience see that the future of energy production is probably not as bleak as they thought, but also suggest that it might be weirder than they imagined.

What did you find more challenging, preparing the pre-selection video or the live presentation?

The live presentation was certainly trickier for me in some ways. I wasn’t sure if my slam was going to be too long or too short, and chosing what to leave in and take out was hard.

What was your experience like as winner of the 2nd global EURAXESS Science Slam?

I would say: Wow. The whole experience has lead to being contacted by newspapers, put our lab in touch with other researchers, it definitely didn’t hurt in helping me get a science communication job, and it sent me off to Europe to meet and learn from some incredible people. It has been a game changer for me.

Would you recommend taking part in the Science Slam to other researchers? Why?

Yes, of course! Do it! Worst case scenario, you tried something new and learned some things. Best case scenario, you are suddenly in Europe thinking about how your life has changed.

Are there any tips that you would like to give to prospective EURAXESS Science Slam participants?

Just go for it. Be yourself, have fun, and know that looking a bit silly is not only ‘OK’, it’s basically encouraged.

You were awarded a trip to Europe and met the other slammers from ASEAN, Brazil, China, India and Japan. How was your training in scientific communication?

The training was excellent. I learned a ton from the speakers, and became part of a growing community of enthusiastic scientists.

EURAXESS also funded your trip to visit to a European research institute of your choice. Which institute did you visit and who did you decide to meet? Why?

I went off to the University of Copenhagen to meet with Jan Sølberg in the department of Science Education. Of all of Europe, I chose to go there because it seemed like the sort of city I could see myself living in at some point (did you know there are 1.8 bikes per person there?), and because it had a prestigious research group that I was interested in meeting.

Have you had any contact with European research before?

I have had only a very brief introduction to a European research group before, and not in the field of science education.

Would you now consider coming to Europe for either a short-term or long- term period to pursue a research career or additional studies?

Definitely. If and when I decide to start my PhD, Europe will be on the top of my wish list.

You also had a meeting with the local EURAXESS Service Centre. What kind of information did you receive?

The main thing I learned in meeting with the EURAXESS service centre representative in Copenhagen is that there is a huge amount of support. You don’t have to go through the process of applying and moving to Europe on your own.

Do you think that being a Science Slam winner had an influence on your ability to gain an appointment at your institution of choice?

Yup! Once I managed to make contact with the researchers there and once they knew I had won a contest for all of North America and chose to visit them, of all of Europe, they were definitely keen to meet me. However, I learned that I had to be a bit careful about keeping my emails out of spam boxes, because apparently this prize is unbelievable even to computers.