Name: Diva Whalen
Alma Mater: Tougaloo College
STEM Career Path: Undergraduate biochemistry professor
I want to have my own lab with funding in order to capture and train the minds of undergrad biologists and biochemists. I would also love to teach ethical standings and interests and how they affect the world of science both the benchwork to bedside medicine.
KH: Who/What inspired you to become interested in science?
DW: I was inspired to become a scientist by my parents. They ALWAYS encouraged us ask the question why. They kept our interest peaked with visits to the natural science museums, zoos, and aquariums. We, my siblings and I, would then go home and watch natural science documentaries and PBS specials. Interestingly enough, my brother, sister, and I are all in the STEM field and I know it was largely due to my parents and our upbringing.
KH: What struggles have you faced as an African American woman in STEM thus far? How did you overcome those struggles?
DW: Struggles that I have faced thus far include being heard and having impostor syndrome. When you are in a room full of scientists that often do not look like you, you have to fight to be heard. I have learned that fighting to be heard means your preparation going into conferences and even lab meetings has to be double or even triple of theirs. It makes you better in the long run; but, it can be disheartening knowing you are spending late nights buried in books and not consumed in the latest season of your favorite show. Along with being heard comes impostor syndrome. I have been in spaces where I was the only expert on my subject and because no one looks like me I felt as if I was chosen as the “token black”, chosen to fill the minority component of the grant. I overcame my impostor syndrome by realizing I AM the expert of my project. This confidence helps me navigate these spaces and allows me to take advice and constructive criticism one expert to another.
KH: Any advice on women that are discouraged to pursue a PhD?
DW: I believe the most beautiful thing about receiving a PhD is knowing you will be an expert in a certain niche that only a couple people can define and grow. That is what attracted me to a PhD. If you are discouraged or do not believe in yourself, know that every woman pursuing her PhD has felt the way the you feel but each one holds on to something to push them through. Mine is knowing I am gaining expertise in something many do not understand.
KH: Best Advice You Have Ever Received?
DW: I have received tons of amazing advice but the mantra I have been repeating to myself over and over lately is “It’s supposed to be hard. Striving for greatness is never easy.”
KH: How Do You Enjoy Your Weekends?
DW: I enjoy my weekends by going to concerts, going on outdoors adventures such as hiking, and binge-watching Netflix series and of course sleeping.
KH: Fun Fact about you
DW: I enjoy watching cooking shows and replicating recipes. I am also a purple belt in GoJu karate martial arts.
KH: For young women of color that are interested in pursuing biology or becoming an ethicist, how do they get there?
DW: The first thing you should do is pick a role model who you have access to and probe her brain. Even if she is not in the same exact field as you want to go in, the steps to get to her career may be the same. Another thing to do is chose a dream career and research what it takes to get there. My original dream job was a genetic counselor so one day I sat at my computer and research the essential classes to take, the level of degrees and emphasis I needed and even the salary.