Transitioning My Heart from a Molecular Biologist to a Vegan Scientist; The origins of The Ethical Scientist, Part II

By Eryn Slankster-Schmierer, PhD on March 31, 2021

I was told that my contract for my postdoctoral position was coming to and end in the new year (2021). I felt relief, because my loyalty to the position had outlived its usefulness and I no longer had to feel (entirely self-provoked) guilt for seeking new employment. But with the termination of my contract, I was released from the burden of one ethical dilemma and handed straight to another.

I faced the conundrum that the majority of job opportunities within my field of Biology heavily exploited animals. If I advertised myself as vegan, I perceived putting myself on a career blacklist. Not to mention working in these fields was morally compromising. I wish I could tell you that I was living my best life. I certainly tried. I poured my energies into quietly seeking vegan jobs and balancing multiple side hustles to keep me motivated (and distracted). One of those side hustles was to write.

I began enthusiastically writing my truth, jotting down idea after idea for essays of all the things I found ethically revolting about academia and science.  I had nowhere to put it so I bombarded my social media with my thoughts. An aspiring copywriter told me to post it on LinkedIn and I thought this was a good idea. Oh! It was so refreshing! Beginning to tell my truth to what I know isn’t spoken about enough was energizing!

But I secretly had plans to delete my LinkedIn the second I needed to look for a “non-vegan” job if I got desperate for money.

Then I got an email from an exceptionally respected scientist dear to my heart. They explained to me that the articles I posted may not be interpreted as professional within my field.  Let me be extremely clear, they were doing so with my best interests in mind, and I knew they were right. But the advice did not sit well with me. Speaking my truth was somehow unprofessional. A theme that has followed me throughout my career.  

I’ll be honest. I have always struggled with the concept that things were professional or not, that I should be judged based on the way I dress, look, or talk, or the opinions and politics I have outside of my work. Combined with my concerns of “career suicide” and “unprofessionalism” calling myself a vegan scientist, and being open about my experiences, this interaction brought me to me knees. My enthusiasm to write died after two essays, leaving a laundry list of writing topics collecting digital dust in Evernote.  These two essays are the first essays of The Ethical Scientist blog.

Something in me snapped recently. While looking for some volunteer writing I could do, I had a conversation with a woman who after telling her this, she asked me if I ever thought of writing under a pseudonym.

The importance of that question -that obvious question! I hung up the phone with her and stared at my computer. I have always been proud of going against the grain, but the fear of financial instability was driving me away from my morality, whispering into my ear to conform or fail. Why was I trying so hard to protect a career I hated? Would I really accept a position as a scientist that exploits animals again? One that requires me to hide myself, my truth, and sacrifice my morals?

I don’t think I can thrive in a world where my truth is considered unprofessional.

For the last 7 years, my life has felt like a wild juxtaposition: Animal rights enthusiast vs biological scientist, animal-companion mom vs animal experimenter, political libertarian vs stripping animals from their autonomy. I know she doesn’t know it, but that woman flipped a switch in me and I started The Ethical Scientist four days later.

(In TES The Origins Part I, I discuss the triggers that made me reevaluate my life goals.)

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