Our TEDxGhent PhD Contest is about pitching your research and ideas to a TEDxGhent audience and receiving feedback. We sat down with Chris Callewaert, the charming Dr. Armpit, who won our very first PhD Contest and talks about how it helped him gain traction, build experience and boost his moral..
Hi Chris. What brought you to enrolling in the PhD contest?
“Well, I got the information that TEDxGhent was looking for PhD students willing to bring forward their research. I was already a fan of the TED brand and was looking for patients that could help me in my research. I was doing research on the bacterias that lead to ’smelly armpits’ and had already introduced my topic once to a well-informed public of bio-engineers.
It was going to be a double win for me: I could present my research to a larger audience and call upon them to enlist as a patient. As you can imagine, finding ‘smelly armpit’-patients and alluring them to your lab isn’t that simple.”
So, how did you prepare for the event?
“I received a lot of help from the Toastmasters Ghent community, that provides support to TEDxGhent speakers. Two lovely women, Annabel & Anne-Aymone Bourgois helped me to narrow my talk down to the very essence. They lead me towards telling an actual story, rather than paraphrasing the lines on a powerpoint presentation. They even persuaded me to bring my story in front of an audience of family and friends. And indeed, If you can let children understand what the bacteria that cause armpits to smell, you can surely take on a TEDx audience (smiles).”
What did you take back from pitching your research to a TEDxGhent audience?
“You learn not to beat around the bush. You go on stage, tell them what good bacteria are, what bad bacteria are, what causes are & what we might learn from research. You add a bit of humor and your done. You just brought a good story that resonates in peoples minds.”
What response did you got after the event?
“The response was very positive. I was the last speaker of the evening, that helps! (smiles). I explained people how we performed our first armpit transplant and how we succeeded and suddenly got an applause. That is something you don’t experience every day!”
After the TEDxGhent Main Event, your talk received a lot of media attention. What did you learn from that?
“Indeed, we got a lot of attention. We repeated the call for patients through the UGent channels using the video of the talk. We got a lot of feedback from possible subjects, that resulted in setting up a website dedicated to the research. Some time later, I received calls from both national and international media. You feel a bit awkward when you suddenly receive a call from a journalist of the Washington Post (smiles).”
It has been three years since you participated. What skills did you take back from the experience?
“The most important thing I learned is how to not get sweaty armpits in front of a six hundred-people audience (smiles). You learn to keep your cool in front of a large group of people, stick to your script and entertain them well.”
A final question Chris: what is the state of your research today?
“The TEDx talk gave my research a boost. We were able to gather 250 eligible subjects, whose samples we still use today for further research. I am continuing my work as a post-doc and will spend some time at The University of California (San Diego) to perform further testing. We shall keep on analyzing body odor and how it affects your clothing.
We are looking forward to developing an actual product that can help you get rid of smelly armpits, but our path to success is still long and daunting.”
Thank you for the interview Chris and good luck!
You can find Chris his talk here