Going from “Dr. Ellyn” to “Coach Ellyn” was a radical pivot for Ellyn Schinke (’11 Microbiol., Gene. & Cell Biol.).

Six years ago, she was working on her doctorate, focusing on “the competence and bacteriocin quorum-sensing systems of Streptococcus pneumoniae.” Today, she helps “busy, ambitious high-achievers to achieve more with less burnout” and “to find their balance in work and life.”

Ellyn Schinke laughs, holding a coffee cup while sitting on a sofa
Courtesy Ellyn Schinke

From her home office in Tacoma, she provides one-on-one coaching, tiered memberships to online resources, retreats, publications, and The Burned Out to Badass Podcast. She has worked with individuals at Amazon, VISA, and JP Morgan and has booked speaking engagements at corporations such as LinkedIn, Avery Dennison, and American Licorice.

Before she could help others, Schinke had to go through her own transformation.

“I’ve been busy since I was a teen,” she says of her school years in Kent, participating in AP classes, piano, voice, and soccer. “I was externally validated. I thrived off hearing the praise … I was like a junkie for it.”

In ninth grade, after watching the movie Outbreak in biology class, Schinke began a lifelong fascination with microbiology.

At WSU, she worked in Michael Skinner’s lab in the School of Biological Sciences. After graduation, she stayed two more years, working as a research technician in the College of Pharmacy and conducting her own research on genes involved in advanced prostate cancer. She was published in two journals, the hallmark of success in science academia.

The next step: Go for her doctoral degree and become “Dr. Ellyn.” She enrolled at the University of Michigan and was completely on track with her ambitions.

Until she wasn’t.

“No matter what I tried, nothing seemed to work as far as my research went,” she remembers. “I was frustrated left, right, and center. I wanted fulfillment, but I wasn’t finding it.”

She started working on personal development and self-help and sharing what she learned with friends. “I realized this feels really good.”

She spent her last day in the lab in summer 2017, then moved back to the Puget Sound area and traveled the world. She established Coach Ellyn LLC in 2019.

The first step in combatting burnout is establishing what it is and if you are caught in it.

“Stress is acute and short-term, lasting weeks to a couple of months max,” Schinke explains. “Burnout is when it becomes a lifestyle, lasting multiple months or a year or more.”

She has four basic principles: self-care, not self-sacrifice; boundaries, not people-pleasing; clarity and self-awareness, not blind ambition; and productivity, not hustle or “wearing ‘busy’ like a badge of honor.”

She summarizes: “Burnout happens, but staying burned out is a choice.”

Simply quitting a job and trying a whole other field⁠—as she did⁠—might not be the answer if a person takes their same habits with them, she wrote in Brainz Magazine, where she is a regular contributor.

Instead, clients should evaluate whether the job makes them a version of themselves they like, whether it aligns with their values and interests, and whether it gives them the lifestyle they want.

Did the pandemic, which resulted in many professional people and corporate employees working from home, reduce burnout?

“At first it did, except for health care workers,” she says. “Further into the pandemic, people working from home found their workload always staring them in the face, with no boundaries and no self-care time.”

As the pandemic progressed, her business exploded.

“You have to process your emotional baggage, get it off your chest,” she says.

This might involve writing, talking to another person, painting, making space for silence, or gardening.

Then, mindfulness must become a daily habit.

Her own life balance includes hiking, traveling, reading, singing karaoke, and trying photography, watercolor painting, and piano playing. “No one likes a burned-out burnout coach,” she says.