By Eryn Slankster-Schmierer, PhD on February 28, 2022
My journey in science always felt like one of juxtaposition. My journey includes an unlikely story of animal cruelty and a path to veganism. Along the way, I discover many qualms with both industry science and American academia, leaving me hopeless in a field I perceived as binary. My experiences produced conflict and dread within myself of powerlessly contributing toward systems I don’t believe in.
Losing my postdoc position in 2021 was the catastrophe I needed to find a third option. I was forced to address ethical dilemmas I had put off. Do I resort to a job based in animal research? A community college teaching job I didn’t want? Abandon the “scientist” title all together that I still strongly identified with?
Literally overnight, I decided my ethics were no longer for sale. I will not settle.
Creating The Ethical Scientist.
Like any scientist would do, I began researching my passion: I was reading any whole-food plant-based scientific literature I could get my hands on, and I enrolled in Dr. T Colin Campbell’s Plant-Based Nutrition course, nervous that spending $1,260 on a course while I was unemployed was irresponsible. In this course I introduced myself as an unemployed scientist seeking ethical purpose, when one of the instructors pointed me to Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine.
I immediately explored PCRM’s website, and I couldn’t believe I had never heard of PCRM before that moment. I read the founder’s newest book (Your Body in Balance, by Dr. Neal Barnard). They weren’t pushing the newest Frankenfoods, they weren’t selling drugs and supplements; PCRM was advocating whole plant food as preventative and restorative medicine using evidence-based science. Meanwhile, they advocated for a shift away from animal-based science towards more effective, human-relevant science. I aligned with PCRM in a way I thought was impossible.
In June of 2021, I landed an interview for the “regulatory testing specialist” position, and I was not surprised to be told I wasn’t qualified. I have an undeniably broad biology background, but what I didn’t have was policy and toxicology experience. I kept an eye on the careers page, waiting for another job opening, but the position was never pulled down. Months later, I collected my thoughts and responded with my letter of continued interest. I may not be perfectly qualified, but I know I am capable, tenacious, and ambitious.
To my surprise, I was offered 80 hours of temporary contract work. I was ecstatic to gain experience as a true vegan scientist. Better yet, I was getting paid real money, albeit part-time, to be a vegan scientist. Month by month, this escalated into a series of renewed short-term contracts from the woman who interviewed me. I was data mining through FDA new drug applications, sifting through scientific literature, contributing to an op-ed, and familiarizing myself with drug testing guidance documents and organizations, inadvertently training for the very position I applied for.
Meanwhile, I was closing in on an entire year without a full-time position. I had dropped almost everything to focus on this part time role. I was also letting some negative comments get in my head that made me question if I was being naïve or “lazy,” if I was holding out for a hopeless cause, if I should consider settling for any stable job that provided health insurance. But I choose to hold my breath. I continued to plug away earning small cash with Helicase Soapery, digging my heels into my contract work with PCRM, all while admittingly having the privilege of love and support from a husband who almost entirely carried the whole team for a full year.
And after five months of contract work and 13 months since my last full-time job, I was offered the position.
Guiding science toward an ethical future.
Tomorrow, March 1st, signifies the self-proclaimed beginning of my career; the culmination of 35 years of life experience to finally align myself with who I am and want to be. Years of sacrifice, pain, and discomfort resolve into a career trajectory I literally couldn’t have dreamed up just a few years ago.
I will be PCRM’s new Regulatory Testing Specialist. Current animal models are flawed, redundant, and cruel. In order to decrease animal use, regulatory bodies must change to allow effective in vitro methods as alternatives, and scientists must learn how to use these and develop more effective alternatives. I could not be happier to announce that I will be working to teach scientists and influence domestic and international policy to reduce the use of animals in drug testing and replace them with more effective, human relevant models.
Chapter I: Developing The Ethical Scientist, is now complete. Onward to Chapter II: Guiding science toward an ethical future, where I can begin my penance of inflicting horrific harm onto animals in science. Landing a career that I am truly passionate about has lightened my proverbial load, illuminated the proverbial path. I have purpose, I will make a real, quantifiable impact. My soul is liberated.
I am home.
*The views expressed by The Ethical Scientist are entirely my own and do not reflect the views of previous or current employers. TES is in no way affiliated with PCRM.