Diva Whalen

2nd Year PhD Student
Biochemistry and cancer biology
Meharry Medical College

About Me

I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Tougaloo University. After obtaining my PhD, I will enter into a post – doctoral program. One of my post – doctoral years will including obtaining a Master’s in Public Health so that I can understand how to connect community to my science. Eventually, I would like to be an undergraduate professor with a lab and also a community health outreach director. I love the festivals Nashville has in the spring and summer times. I love nature so I go on hikes. My most favorite thing to do if I am unwinding is go back home to Mississippi and enjoy my family and friends.

My Research

Tell us about your graduate research

I studied triple negative breast cancer and its recurrence. Triple negative breast cancer affects young and African American women at an alarming rate. I studied a novel growth protein that is active even after chemotherapy treatments.

What motivated you to pursue this line of research?

My motivation is knowing that I will be able to help alleviate the burden of breast cancer especially in the communities of color by addressing the problem of breast cancer recurrence. I have to continue in my understanding because too many families suffer with losing a love one.

What is the coolest thing about your research?

The coolest thing about my research is the protein I study. It is not well published or understood; therefore, every discovery I make or connection I build is uniquely mines. That’s definitely something to get excited about.

What is the most challenging part of research for you?

Although it is excited that my protein is novel in breast cancer, it is also my challenge. I can only make association with other proteins or its protein family which can be frustrating at time. I do not have direct reference to its structure or function.

My Grad School Experience

Why did you choose to go to Grad School?

I chose to enter into the PhD program at Meharry Medical College because their mission is to address health disparities through community outreach and disparities research. Also I have always dreamed teaching science (especially future young black scientists) so obtaining my biomedical PhD will allow me to do so.

Do you ever feel discouraged? How do you get around that?

I have felt discouraged on my journey. Some of things I do overcome are have a praise party (thinking about His blessings allows me to reevaluate my troubles), workout (I am an avid bootcamper and zumba dancer), binge watch my favorite shows (There is nothing wrong with getting lost in The Mindy Project for a couple of hours), and enjoy my fellow Meharry PhDs (at happy hour or Saturday brunch).

Who are some of your biggest cheerleaders?

My biggest cheerleaders are my family members. I am the oldest of three and I feel so blessed when my brother and sister tell me I am their role model. I have my best friends: Conisha Hackett (so to be lawyer), Tamara Butler (best friend since 7th grade), and Kimar Cain (my travel buddy and partner in crime). I have an whole Tougaloo cheering squad but Dr. Walker is the woman I emulate. Her drive and passion for learning is one of the main reasons why I will teach at an HBCU. My PI at Meharry (Dr. Sakwe) is always encouraging me to stretch. I appreciate that he sees my potential and is constantly trying to pull it out of me. My classmates are also some of my biggest cheerleaders. They always give me a smile throughout the week.

What has been the most useful life advice you have received?

Never be afraid to step out on faith. What God has for you is for you. Everything happens for a reason and nothing happens by osmosis.

What do you want to say to up and coming Melanin Genius?

Go for it! Some times will be painful but in those moments of pain understand that it is just stretching you to your next level. It is always easy to look at what’s going wrong but challenge yourself to find and enjoy what’s going right.



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