A 2020 holiday letter from Science Careers – Science Magazine

It’s been a year unlike any other. (Well, it’s been somewhat similar to 536.) To commemorate the end of 2020, we’ve placed our annual holiday letter into the overburdened postal system for you to enjoy—after you open your mailbox with tongs and let the envelope sit for however many days were recommended by that article about surface transmission you read back in April.

Greetings and holiday wishes!

It’s hard to believe it, but another year has flown by, and 2020 is drawing to a close! Where does the time go, am I right? Also, is today Tuesday, or August?

Things have certainly been busy in the world of science this year. In fact, science has practically dominated the headlines, whether it was the confirmation of the existence of abelian anyons, the finding that Betelgeuse is 25% closer than previously measured, or—most significant of all—the shocking discovery based on a partial left femur that Sahelanthropus tchadensis was not, as it turns out, a hominin. I know I couldn’t sleep after that one!

Oh, right, there also was—and hey, look, wouldn’t have known it from some people’s behavior, still is—a global pandemic. The word “pandemic,” of course, comes from the Greek “demōs” meaning “people,” and “pan” meaning “all”—not to be confused with “Pan,” meaning “goat horns and a flute.” But let me tell you, this year has been very, very goat horns and a flute.

Just as it has been an exciting year for science, it has been a thrilling time in our household as well! We love to highlight our travels in our annual holiday letter, and this year was no exception. In April, we voyaged to the farthest reaches of the front yard. Then, in June, we packed up the whole family for a long-planned journey to About Four Blocks From Here. The kids were especially excited, because it was the first time they’d worn shoes since March!

And, of course, no year would be complete without visits from our beloved relatives. So, this year was not complete. But we still had a wonderful time engaging with them on social media, whether we “liked” photos of their new puppy, wished them a happy anniversary, or spent hours in the middle of the night debunking their theories about how mass vaccination campaigns are covert operations aimed at microchipping the general public to improve targeted Facebook ads.

Honestly, it’s easy to criticize 2020. And we know that the year has brought very real challenges and loss for many, many people. But the year also held some legitimately positive developments for the scientific community. So, because a holiday letter is a perfect place to highlight only positive news, in the spirit of finding the good that came out of this year, here are a few things we’re celebrating this holiday season.

  • Scientific concepts are now more widely known. Antibodies, antigens, PCR, convalescent plasma, control group, herd immunity—even when the public debates what these terms mean, at least they’re being discussed. Not only that, but more people now understand why our jobs are important. Take that, professional athletes.
  • We have become absolute pros at video meetings. These existed before 2020, of course, but most of us attended them so infrequently that we spent most of our time marveling at the technology, figuring out how to unmute ourselves, and making now-stale jokes about The Brady Bunch. Today we know the function of every item in the preferences dropdown menu in Zoom. This technology has opened doors for connecting people at a distance, which has allowed us to collaborate and communicate more broadly. It has also expanded remote conferences, increasing accessibility and decreasing the likelihood that anyone will notice you playing with your phone during a talk.
  • We’ve come to appreciate our co-workers more as human beings—it’s hard not to when a cat or a toddler wanders into the frame. We’ve made a routine of checking on one another’s welfare. “How are you doing?” has been transformed from a throwaway greeting while you made coffee or put your lunch in the fridge to a sincere solicitation of the other person’s well-being. And we’ve shown one another compassion when things haven’t gone as planned while trusting that everyone is putting forth their legitimate best effort. Not only that, but we’ve actually put forth our legitimate best effort, validating that level of trust. Maybe we’re not all slackers after all. SOMEONE PLEASE GO TELL MY PH.D. ADVISER.
  • We’ve learned to work more efficiently and creatively. When we can only be in the lab a fraction of the time, we have to figure out how to be effective within those restrictions. And when we have been unable to perform “regular” work, we’ve had to come up with new ways to stay intellectually engaged—which means that we have now written every review paper about every topic we can possibly think of.
  • The Arecibo telescope, one of humankind’s largest and most brilliant scientific instruments—wait. Oh. Oh no. That’s not good. Never mind.
  • We learned to play the zither. We all agreed to do that, right?
  • We have successfully pre-generated all of the jokes we’ll use in the workplace in late 2021: “Johnson isn’t sleeping through the meeting, he’s muted!” “Sorry I’m late, everyone, the link didn’t work!” “Can’t hear ya, Boss, my 6-year-old is in the next room trying to put doll clothes on the cat!”

Finally, as we bid farewell to 2020, we can rest easily in the absolute, incontrovertible knowledge that everything will be completely fixed and back to normal on January 1, 2021.

Until next year, I’m Hugh Downs. And I’m Barbara Walters. And this was 2020.

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