2020 in My Rearview: The Origins of The Ethical Scientist, Part I

by Eryn Slankster-Schmierer, PhD on March 30, 2021

This post was originally published on my social media on February 3, 2021. In retrospect, this is truly the origins of The Ethical Scientist: the proverbial spark.

I had someone delete me on Facebook this year because I made a post about not spending 2020 whining and choosing happiness. She told me I was being insensitive, since people had plenty to “whine” about. And listen, I get it. I admit that I was in a privileged position that others were not: I did NOT have any loved one die in 2020, I maintained employment/income for the entire year, and I had a stable relationship that I could rely on (even though it is against everything in me to rely on another human being).  But there was plenty I could have obsessed about in 2020, in addition to the classic emotional toll that COVID has brought everyone.

The Whiny-Negative-Paragraph-That-Everyone-Can-Write-In-2020: I can pinpoint the moment I lost drive for my job (March 2019). When COVID hit, I honestly dived into my work head first with excitement. I began writing like a fiend: completing 80% of a manuscript, diving into grant writing. This was just the first two months of quarantine. I finally felt like I was allowed the space, the time, and the peace and quiet to delve into my projects. And month after month went by feeling ignored and shoved aside. After submitting the exact same manuscript to my boss for literally 6 months, 2 days before my wedding time off, he asked me if I could “tell a story” with my data. I asked, “have you not opened any of the files I’ve sent you?” and he replied “Probably not.” My jaw hit the floor as I realized my boss had not read a goddamned thing I wrote in literally six months. I felt so goddamned stagnant in my job. I was itching for more responsibility and ownership and I couldn’t manage to land it. I had been frantically grasping for direction to get a grant within his lab, because I knew money was running out in September, but I couldn’t get him to let go of the reins and trust me. Meanwhile, my own brother told me I was “murdering” my family by having a wedding and downright refused to attend. I haven’t heard from him since August, which even when he does communicate it is always abusive.  Moving forward, my father suffered a series of injuries including knee surgery followed by a broken ankle. That, coupled with COVID fears, meant my own father couldn’t come to my wedding.  The only guests from “my side” that could come were my mother, sister, and her fiancé (which I am exceptionally grateful for). That is it. My beach wedding turned into an apocalyptic movie scene encompassed in suffocating wildfire smoke.  And then, to add insult to injury, the Hawaii honeymoon that I planned a year prior got ripped out of my hands. And honeymoon v2.0 that we planned after that. Add to that me getting COVID, immediately thereafter losing my job, and my father getting COVID. And this woman had the audacity to “unfriend” me because I said people were being whiny for choosing self-pity.

The-Life-Changing-Perspective-That-Made-2020-My-Year-Of-Growth: If you only focus on negativity, it is all you see.  I could have obsessed about any one of those things I mentioned, and plenty more, and no one would blame me. But do you know what defined my year in 2020?

I was able to marry my best friend, in one of the most scenic locations in America, with my sister by my side. 

I got to invite my mother, sister, and Aaron into my new life, that I share with my husband.

I fell in love with backpacking and the Ruby Mountains.

I climbed my very first V4.

I fucking NAILED my fitness journey.

I fell in Love with my community and the people here in Reno.

The woman who deleted me is irrelevant; she is a sad metaphor of leaving behind commitment to negativity.  Everyone else can look back at 2020 as some sort of black hole in their life if they want, but I don’t have a year to waste. I am done letting life happen to me. I did that for 30 years, and it didn’t work out for me. You can conquer the day or you can let the day conquer you.  Every single day you have the opportunity to obsess over your own unhappiness, or you can draw your attention to something that makes you smile. And I am proud to say “COVID” did not define my 2020, I did.

Read on: In The Origins of TES Part II, I discuss making the commitment to publicly calling myself a Vegan Scientist.

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