Nkatha Mwenda

Kenyan-American

PhD researcher

#Neuroscience
Where are you from?

Currently based in

I was born in Nairobi, Kenya and lived there until I was six. I have lived the rest of my life in the United States but visited Kenya often while growing up. I have struggled with my identity but now proudly identify as Kenyan-American. (Shout out to my fellow Third Culture Kids)

United States

What is your educational background?

I earned my Bachelors in Biology from Kalamazoo College and I am an incoming first year Ph.D. student in Northwestern University's Interdisciplinary Neuroscience program

What is your current occupation?

I am a first year Ph.D. student at Northwestern University studying neuroscience. I am interested in researched centered around understanding the molecular mechanism involved in neurodegenerative diseases.

What (or who) got you into STEM?

My journey in STEM started with my parents enrolling me and my sister into a chemistry camp held by the local college when I was in middle school. I remember having so much fun during that camp and from then on taking more interest in science classes in high school and college. The chemistry camp and other research experiences I had later in my undergraduate studies tapped into the curiosity I have always had and showed me that I can make a career out of asking questions and testing hypotheses.

What is the biggest challenge/barrier you have faced as an African in STEM?

One of the biggest challenges I've faced are stereotypes about what a scientist looks like and as a black woman in STEM I have experience people who have doubted me or questioned my belonging. In addition, finding a community has been difficult as well because not many people at the institutions I have studied or worked at have the same background as me. Therefore, at times, it is hard to feel like I belong in these spaces.

How do you think your background/upbringing has been beneficial in your journey/career?

My upbringing has been beneficial in my journey thus far because I have been fortunate to have parents who believe in me, support me, and encourage me to pursue my dreams. In addition, growing up as a Kenyan in the United States has given me the opportunity to see the world from multiple viewpoints which I believe is an important skill to have when working in STEM fields.

How do you think we can start to change the narrative surrounding African contributions to global STEM research & careers?

I think we can start to change the narrative surrounding African contributions to global STEM research by amplifying the voices of Africans in STEM. I am excited to see that this work is already being done by Visibility STEM Africa. In addition, I believe the news and media, specifically from "western" countries, need to be more conscious of the stories that they amplify about the continent of Africa because often times hardships are overemphasized while the success and innovation that comes from Africans is down-played.

What advice would you like to give to young, aspiring African’s in STEM?

My advice to young, aspiring Africans in STEM is: you can do anything! There will be challenges along the way but never let those who do not believe in you get in your way. You belong in STEM and your voice is needed.

Do you have any project you're working on that you would like us to highlight?

I recently started a podcast with one of my friends who is also pursuing a Ph.D. in neuroscience. The podcast is called Grad Diaries: The Neuromelanated Edition. Our goal is to share our experiences as black women in graduate school in hopes of encouraging and connecting with others who are going through grad school so that we can build community and share resources. We are in the early stages of development but if anyone is interested in tuning in and joining our community please visit: https://neuromelanatededit.wixsite.com/gradiaries!

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