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Little Science Talks: Season 1, Episode 3

by | Sep 9, 2021 | Little Science Talks Podcast | 0 comments

The first season of the Little Science Talks podcast focuses on generational influences in STEM. Little Science Co Founder, Heidi Gardner will be joined by her co-host Anna Kebke, along with a different guest for each episode.

You can listen to the episode in full using the Acast player above, the full episode’s transcript is below if you’d prefer to read along.

In our third episode we’re joined by Kiara Whittle. Kiara is a Chemist and she joins us to talk about her experiences with STEM growing up. She was surrounded by STEM as a child; both of her Grandmothers were Nurses, and her Grandfather worked at a tech company. When it came to science herself, Kiara was surrounded by support from her parents and teachers, but could not see herself in scientific role models – a further reminder that young girls, particularly young Black girls, need to see scientists that look like them. In her new job at a robotics company, Kiara works to make Scientists’ lives easier, streamlining lab processes to ensure that science advances efficiently. Alongside her job, she works hard to be the role model she didn’t have, taking part in initiatives like Letters To A Pre-Scientist and writing to school-aged children around the world. Kiara also has her own podcast, which aims to show that Scientists are real people with personalities and social lives,

Heidi 
Hello, and welcome to Little Science Talks. Today we are joined by the fantastic Kiara Whittle. Kiara, do you want to start things off by introducing yourself? 

Kiara
Well, firstly I’m so happy you said my last name right because when I tell you, I get all types of pronunciations for it. My favourite one is White. 

Heidi
Oh, no, no! 

Kiara
How people just disregard the other letters, but it is what it is! So hello everyone. My name is Kiara. I’m from Brooklyn, New York. So, this is an interesting collaboration. I am a chemist.  I work for a robotics company and I automate BioAssays for diagnostic tests and things like that. So it’s pretty cool. 

Heidi
Like beyond cool. The Whittle thing I get, because my old flatmate had the same name, so I was like, ah, I get this one. Like I know this one!

Kiara
Right! I always have to tell people, say little and then replace the  L with a WH. So they get it. 

Heidi
Jeez, man. Anyway, a robotics company that sounds intense. Like, is it fun? Like, what is, what is your normal day look like?

Kiara
It is kind of fun. So I’ll be honest. I just started, I’m like a month fresh into the job. I just started like in July. So it’s kind of fun dealing with the robot. And when I say robot, people think it’s like, this thing walking around on wheels or something like that. You know, just doing everything for you. It just automates the process for us kind of thing, but it’s fun. Like programming it, telling it what to do. I’m learning how to code better. And then I, I never knew, like I knew you could mix science and tech kind of like that, but I’ve never done it for myself. So when I started here, I was like, oh, this is so cool. So I was telling my computer science friends like this is so cool. I see why you like this.  I should have listened to you earlier but here we are. I understand now why it’s so great. It’s great so far, just like super cool. 

Heidi
How does the robotics thing come in? To like make the science quicker or faster or easier? 

Kiara
So the whole premise of the company is to make scientists have less time at their bench and focusing more on the research part of what they’re doing kind of thing. So instead of you taking a million hours to pipe,  just tell your robot to do it for you while you’re moving on to something else. It makes multitasking so much easier. 

Heidi 
I just heard like 17 million PhD students around the world just being like, yeah, this sounds incredible.

Kiara
Everyone needs one in their company. I’m telling you, even when I interviewed for this company, I told my supervisor at my previous job when I was leaving, I was like, listen, um, I think you need to utilize them.  It would make things so much easier here. Everyone would be so much happier. I’m still leaving, but everybody would be so much happier.

Heidi
‘I’m still leaving, but Hey, I’ll make it better for the people I’ve left behind.’ So good. So how did you get into it? Like, what was your last job? What’s your CV like?

Kiara
It’s getting long. I’m actually surprised by myself when. I have a friend that does resumes and CVs, her name is Ariel. So when she was doing mine, she was like, you know what? Um, this might’ve been the first CV I didn’t understand everything that was going on. There was so much scientific jargon. I was just like this that’s cool. All right, let’s do it. That sounds great. Let’s put that.  But in my previous job, I worked in a manufacturing lab. We did COVID testing kits. I was over the cancer HPV product line. So I did a lot of reagent prep and stuff like that. For those types of diagnostics. And then once the pandemic happened, it was just like, this door of opportunities just opened up because everybody needs the scientist in their labs to run some type of PCR tests or something in regards to COVID. So it was kinda like in high demand type of thing. So it’s been, it’s been an interesting ride. I’ll tell you that. But the last company definitely put me in a position to do what I’m doing now. 

Heidi
That’s really good. Like obviously the pandemic has not been, it’s not been a good thing.

Kiara
Right. 

Heidi 
It’s good that like some good has come out of it and you’ve been able to like get new opportunities and kind of find this new thing. And it sounds super cool. 

Kiara
Yeah. No, it’s been terrible for the most part, but the advances in medicine have been crazy, like wild. 

Heidi 
Yeah, like science has been on like super speed. Everyone’s aged like 10 years in the last 2 years. Geez. 

Kiara
I can’t even believe we’re coming up on 2 years. 

Heidi
Yeah, it’s mad, but hopefully, we’re towards the end of it. I don’t know.

Kiara 
I don’t know what’s the joke anymore, but I’m tired of it. 

Heidi
Anyway enough of COVID. I promised people, we wouldn’t talk about it too much. 

Kiara
I’m so sorry! 

Heidi 
No, you talk about it in a cool way because you make it good! 

Anna
We’re just whining Heidi and I!

Heidi
Oh God yeah, all the time! So I guess the theme of this series is kind of like generational influence on how people got into science and whether generational influence has an impact on what scientists do in their careers. So when you got in touch, you’ve mentioned that your grandmothers and your grandfather were kind of STEM-inclined. So can you tell us a little bit more about that? What impact did that have on you?

Kiara
So I actually have a funny little story. Both my grandmothers were nurses at Harlem hospital in New York and they didn’t know that they would-be in-laws, so they knew each other before they actually realized they were in-laws. 

Heidi 
Oh, that’s cute. That’s really cute.

Kiara
Yeah. So I guess it was kind of meant to be sort of thing. So, my grandma was a head nurse at Harlem hospital and she has all these like medical books and drug books and things like that. So when I was little, I’d go upstairs to their bookshelf and pick up a book and read it. My grandfather was on the tech side. He worked for a tech company and they bought me my first chemistry set. And I’ll never forget because the chemistry set had these shrimp eggs to do this project with. And my Dad is highly allergic to shellfish. So if I had to grow them, it was so crazy, I had to do it in private because he couldn’t touch it or be around it or anything like that. So it was really was like Dexter’s laboratory. In elementary school, we had science fairs and my first project ever was the tornado. 

Heidi 
Oh yeah, like a Mentos in the Diet Coke?

Kiara
No, no, no. When you put the water in the bottles, you can tape it and shake it up to make it the tornado in the bottle and I ended up winning first place. I can’t remember what I said during the presentation to present my project, but whatever I said, the next day, my science teacher came up to my Mum and my Dad and was like, your daughter has a gift. I don’t know how I presented it. It was like first grade. So, ever since then, my parents, unfortunately, there weren’t as many opportunities as like for me as there are for kids now, but my parents always found a way to express their hobbies and make sure we, had things to keep us growing and what we’d like to do. They cared about our interests and the things we liked. So, moving on to high school, I was in biology and I kept getting like, I don’t even know how this is possible, but if we had a test, it was like 102 hundred and 104 and so, you know, my parents, they used to check on my grades, so I’m showing my mother these grades and she’s like, what is going on? Not that she wasn’t proud of me, but she was like, something’s not right. She was like, are you being challenged? And I was like, no. Cause you know, it was easy. I would fall asleep in class at the time. Cause it was like, all right I’m going to take a nap now. 

So we had a parent breakfast at school and my parents went and walked up to the principal and she was like, my child’s not being challenged enough something needs to be done here and, I do not know if anyone listening is familiar with the New York City high school selection process, but when you pick your high schools, you apply to programmes. 

And I applied for the liberal arts program because none of the high schools really had anything geared toward science, except we have these things called specialized high schools, but you have to test for that and that’s a whole nother story for different days. So I went into my high school under liberal arts and the principal tells my Mum oh, well, we have this research science programme,  and my mother was like, all right put my daughter in that. I didn’t even get a say, she was just like we need that right now. So the next day, like all my classes changed and I was in this program now. So we had research biology, chemistry, and physics, and the whole premise was that towards the ending of our high school journey, we would be shadowing scientists to participate in the international science fair, which was Intel. So that was the first. Science fair nationally that I ever participated in, and it was a really cool experience. Yeah, it’s really dope. I met all my best friends in that program, still friends to this day. Like I had this really great chemistry teacher and that is what made me take chemistry for college because Cause Mr Deutsch was phenomenal.

Heidi 
Yeah, no right. Teachers kind of have a big deal. Huh? 

Kiara
They do because when you have a good one and they care about you and they do everything, they can to make sure that you understand, I’ll never forget, our teacher he was trying to teach us about, I think it was Atoms or something bouncing around and so he was like bouncing around different things in the classroom because he was going so hard about it. That makes me be like, yeah, okay, this stuff is great. This is what I want to do. So that’s how we got here. 

Heidi 
So the last episode that we did, we were speaking to Diana Githwe and she was talking about how her biology teacher was really good so she went into biology and that is a massive influence whether you go into biology, chemistry, or physics, and it just so happens that your teacher was in chemistry. And so you’re like, okay. Yeah, chemistry is the one it’s just such a massive power that a teacher has. And if you have a bad one, like obviously then it goes the other way.

Kiara
Right, it’s so crazy how bad teachers take the experiences of children, it’s just cause you could be interested in something, whatever it is that one teacher that tells you, oh, you can’t do it or don’t get your hopes up or something like that. And then it’s just like, all right. Even if you try, if you have a bad teacher, it’s just hard.

Heidi 
I remember when I was a kid and I had this math teacher and every like exam that I ever did, every test that I did, she used to write on it Mrs Underachiever I was like, wow, leave it out with Mrs Underachiever. What are you doing? My Mum was like, she’s the worst teacher in the world, I’m going to get you a tutor and start like. The woman was just freaking evil, but yeah, the impact is massive because now even if I’m doing like maths stuff in my job, I’m scared of it because it’s in the back of your head. 

Kiara 
Terrible. I mentor kids now, so I make sure that I always tell them that they can do something and whenever someone comes up to me and they go, oh, you know, a lot of my kids call me Ms Kiki, Oh, Ms Kiki, I want to be like you when I grow up,  I always tell them to be better. Even with my own little brother, he always says he wants to be like me. I was like, no, don’t be like me be better because you can be better than me. Training you so that you can be better than me. I’m trying to lay the blueprint. So you know how to take this higher type of thing, such a nice way to like, to encourage people like, yeah, you know, I’m good, but you can be even, even better.

Like you can be better. I can be the stepping stone.

Heidi 
How did you get into the mentoring that you mentioned?

Kiara
So, my mother, I love her to death. She loves to brag about me and my brother. Like you know they say you know when people are talking about you because your ears are probably ringing my ears probably ring nonstop because my Mum talks about us nonstop. And you know, she’s always talking about these things that we’re doing. And a lot of her coworkers and friends would reach out to me to ask would sit down and talk to my kid? especially their daughters. Not even just about science, but about what you’re doing in life because I was on a positive track type of thing.

When I was in undergrad, we had this club called The Tri-state club and we would go to local schools in the area and talk to the kids, especially about our majors and our fields and things like that. So of course I’m walking up to the school to talk to kids about science when I have children that look like me, tell me that they don’t think that they can do math or they don’t think that they can do science or science is boring, you know? And not saying that science is not, cause I know to most people science is boring, but it’s also the fact that nobody takes the time to be like, listen, you can be good in everything. 

You don’t just have to dribble a basketball or football or something like that. Like you can be good across the board and nobody takes the time to do that with the STEM fields. A certain type of child is supposed to be good in math and science and the other type is supposed to be good at everything else and fail it in math and science type of things.

Heidi 
Yeah. 100%. 

Kiara
Probably about three years ago, I think I was scrolling on Instagram or Google or something. I don’t even know how I stumbled across this program, but it’s called Letters to a Pre-scientist. And what they do is they match STEM professionals with children and they become pen pals. So for the past two years, I’ve been writing to kids about science and what I do and I’ve gotten things like, oh my God, I never knew science could be so cool. Or you make this sound so good, I can’t wait to do this and I can’t wait to do this at high school and study this in college. And I’m just like, this is what it’s supposed to be. We’re supposed to be teaching these babies that they can do whatever. And a lot of the reasons why kids don’t like to do certain things is because it used to be a crime to be smart. Like people used to make you feel bad because you were smart or because you understood something at a certain level. And it’s just like, it’s cool. Just like it’s cool to be a scientist. You can still be a cool person. 

Heidi 
Right? There are so many sides to science as well, like when kids say science is boring, well which bit have you looked at? Because there are so many different parts to it that, it’s like, yeah some of it really is boring, but some of it is fun.

Kiara
I’m writing my last pen pal because we’re were about to start up for the school year again. She’s like, can you teach me how to do that experiment that they see on TV? So at first, I’m like, what experiment on TV? And she’s talking about elephant toothpaste, and I don’t know if you’ve ever seen sometimes on the News they have like the little science segments and it’s when they have like this colourful foam shooting out of this container. That’s the thing, they call that elephant toothpaste. So I’m like, okay, so I’m writing her out all the instructions and I’m like, make sure you ask your parents, you can do this because I don’t need you saying Ms Kiki told me to do it and if you mess up everything in the house, I don’t need that. I gave her all the instructions. I said, make sure you have parental instruction. I said, listen, your parents can call me. So she did it, I know she said she made a mess too, she was like, I couldn’t take any pictures because it was so messy, but it was fun. I was like you enjoyed it that’s all that mattered. You enjoyed it. As long as there’s some excitement and stuff that like, that’s just the little seed of something for the future. 

Heidi 
Right! So you don’t know what she’s going to be doing in the future, maybe she’s going to be like, I dunno, optimizing that elephant toothpaste.

Anna 
It’s like on Netflix, Emily’s Science Wonder Lab. Have you guys heard about that? 

Kiara
I told myself, I need to watch it 

Heidi
I’m pretty sure they announced that like there wasn’t going to be a second season and then all the science of Twitter, went crazy about it because like there needs to be – there was like a big outcry building up. 

Anna
There wasn’t really much of that for us. Right?

Heidi  
I can’t, no, I can’t remember anything like that.

Kiara
We had Bill Nye the science guy, there was a show when I was younger called Zoom and I feel like they had a segment for science and they used to do little science experiments.

Heidi 
It’s just about seeing adults just mess around, just like play and see what happens and making that part of science. 

Kiara 
You know when I told you guys about my grandparents, even my parents, when we had science projects, it might not have been as fun for my brother because my brother is a creative child and I am the scientific child. So my mother has the best of both worlds going on over here. 

Heidi 
I bet she’s so good at boasting about the two of you.

Kiara 
My parents had so much fun doing my science projects, you would’ve thought it was their project. Yeah. But that’s what that was with homework and projects across the board. Like my parents were so engrossed in whatever we did. You would’ve thought it was their homework at a point in time. 

Heidi 
I feel like a lot of parents are like that. I was kind of like the science-y child, but my Dad and my Mum were like the creative parents. So if I had like a creative project, they were straight in like, let’s do this and print this and make this and did it, like, they loved it more than I did. You’re almost teaching a parent at the same time as teaching a kid.

Kiara 
Right? It’s true. My mother felt like she was in school over again. She was like, all right, let’s go. I’m like, man, I thought I was the one going to school, but okay. Actually, both of my parents went to high school for civil engineering and architecture and things like that. So they have that background. So I don’t know. My parents, my Dad is probably the only dad I know that will have a T-square on hand in the house and he will pull it out when it’s time to do it. He’s like, all right, I got it. It’s going to be so serious about this whole thing.

Heidi 
You have all of this to look forward to Anna!

Anna 
Oh gosh. My four-year-old, she’s teaching me about the planets. So she obviously knows their order on, honestly, I don’t really. So she goes and asks what planet comes after mercury Mummy….Pluto?

Heidi 
Oh, no. Oh no. She’s going to just be sitting there like, yeah, no, Plato’s not a planet and we’re all sitting as a whole generation behind her going, it was once when we were young, it used to be a planet. Wild. 

I’ll make sure that I put the link to Letters to a Pre-scientist in the show notes so if anyone wants to sign up. 

Kiara
Oh yeah, for sure. For sure.

Anna 
How long have you been doing it? 

Kiara
This is I believe my third school year coming up

Anna 
Do you follow them after the year is over the school year, do you get a follow-up with what are they up to?

Kiara
I wish we did, to be honest with you. I do give the children my information and I also make sure that they tell their parents that if they ever have any questions or they want to reach out to me, they just want to talk, you know, you can contact me, your mom or your dad can email me but we do get like, thank you letters from the kids. So there are pictures that they draw holding up saying thank you. And you know, things like that. So it’s really cute. 

Heidi 
Adorable. So cute. So is it the whole world? 

Kiara 
It’s the whole world, actually, they have pen pals from everywhere. Everywhere, both nationally and internationally.

Anna 
So I think there’s a thing called Skype A Scientist as well

Heidi 
Oh yeah. I’ve seen that too. Where you Skype into a science classroom? 

Anna 
Yeah, my supervisor said it was really good. So we can put that in the links as well

Kiara 
Right. Gotta get the babies on board so that way they can see you can still be a cool adult, like science and math and technology and all that good stuff. 

Heidi 
I feel like being a cool adult is like the most pressure, I’m still sitting here being like, I’m 17 – and I’m not 17 I’m 29 and it’s terrifying. But, I’m still like, no, I swear. I’m young. I promise. Do you have any like science related pet peeves that we can go off on a tangent with?

Kiara
Oh yes, I do actually! With the pipette tips, I do not like when you take something out one by one out of the container, I do not like when people take it out of random spots in the container because it just looks weird to me. I always, I just, I have a constant battle with my coworkers. Like, why couldn’t you just go in order, you had to mess up the order in the pipe. 

Heidi 
There’s a meme where it’s all the different configurations of when people have taken the tips out, it’s a wildcard, and then like the organised one. 

Kiara
Yes. Yes, I do that to my co-workers, and print them out and post them in the lab, like this is normal people, and this is serial killers and you guys are borderline, because what are you doing? Like, I just don’t understand. And I don’t like when people don’t clean up their lab areas, they’ll do an experiment, but everything will be everywhere. Like just have a little organization. Like I’m always the one moving things out of the way or picking it up and putting it somewhere. this follows lab safety right now. You just have everything here. In my last job, I used to have to just take moments because I would come and like, we, they used to measure out a, of sodium chloride and on the scale, there would be crystals of salt everywhere. And I’m just like, so nobody wanted to wipe this out. We just leave this here. Like what is happening and what if this was something I couldn’t touch. 

Heidi 
Who raised you? 

Kiara
Basically! Any coworker of mine will tell you that I used to go off about things, not being put properly or something being spilt someplace, and everybody walked past it instead of cleaning it up. It’s always going to be the pipettes.

Heidi 
I feel like you need to let that go.

Kiara 
I probably do, but it’s really not that hard to know the order. So maybe it is me. Maybe, maybe I’m the problem because I want it to be an order. And when you’re in, when you’re in the zone, you just weren’t picking up something.

Heidi 
So I don’t work in the lab anymore, but when I used to go in order like I would go up the row and I’m like down and then back up. So it was sensible and it would do my head in when people didn’t do that. So I get you. I totally get you. I just haven’t been in the lab. So I’m not as angry as you

Kiara 
I think it’s especially when you come in from muscle memory. Cause you’re used to just going one over and one over then. It’s like you put it up there so they can just like, wow. People also, don’t like to fill up the pipette tips either. Like if you use them all, that’s another pet peeve. Whenever somebody uses something and they don’t want to replace it, whether it’s a reagent. 

Heidi 
We used to make, well, I say we, we were the interns. So we used to have to fill up the pipette tips and make the reagents and stuff. Cause in the lab that I was in, they would just make all the interns do it all the time and it was so boring.

Kiara 
I’m so sorry. I’ve had my fair share of those days. I’m just like, man, I am worth so much more.

Heidi 
Could the robot do it? 

Kiara 
No, it would be nice if it did, but it doesn’t. It does this, the tips though. So I like that it puts it in the trash. There’s a little trash section. But yet it would be nice if it did, but no, you have to change the box for it. 

Heidi 
Anyway. Okay. Let’s move on from the science pet peeves though that was a good segment. Maybe we should always have that on the podcast. With your grandparents and stuff, you kind of mixed what they do like together. So you do like biology related stuff and chemistry-related stuff and tech stuff together. So what are your parents do? Was there an influence from them or were they just super enthusiastic and just helping you throughout?

Kiara 
So my Mum does everything. It’s amazing. She started the one profession, my mom is actually a chef. My dad works for a health organization out here, but at one point my Mum really wanted to be a dentist. So the medical and science thing she has that down but my dad is this whiz kid genius that everyone didn’t know what you were doing in this grade, but you’re here. You should be higher than this type of thing.

Heidi 
Cool. I guess being a chef is kind of chemistry though? 

Kiara 
Definitely, and creative at the same time because my Mum comes up with some things and she’ll put out a spread and we’re just so lucky. What I will say is that I benefited a lot, because I had two very hands-on parents, especially academically. And like I said before, in anything, we took on they took it on like it was their own. And my Mum always told us that you should do homework with a difference and I’ve applied that to every aspect of my life. 

Heidi 
That’s really cool, like channel it differently. You seem like a good kid. Like you do, you do what she told you to 

Kiara 
I tried. You know, I’d like to think that I listened to them very well. They gave good guidance.

Heidi 
So you also have your own podcast. How did that start? 

Kiara 
Okay, so my co-host is one of my good friends, Martin, and he is actually a personal trainer and he’s in the air force. And so one day he picked me up from work and I was like going over my horrific dating stories here in New York. And I’m just like, you know, telling him and telling him all these traumatic experiences and he’s just like laughing. I’m like, man, this is what friendship is. Wow. And he’s like, you need a show. He’s like, yeah, you just need me to show that real things happened to real people. So we came up with doing this podcast. We call it cognac and chemistry and it’s to show the balance of your professional and your social life. You could be killing it at work and your personal life could be a shambles or it could be the reverse.

Your life could be a shambles and your personal life is going great. We just, talk about all types of topics from what did you do at work today to what you ate for dinner, this coworker did this to me, something in the news. It’s cool. 

Heidi 
It’s a really good idea to, show that scientists are like well-rounded people like we have social lives and stuff too.

Kiara 
That’s I think that’s sort of the things that I like the most, especially now being a scientist. I just like showing that not everybody is wearing, I do wear glasses, but not everybody’s wearing those big, those big old glasses. And when they’re talking with like their nose is stuffed up and they can recite everything, they can recite everything off the dictionary and things like that. Like not every scientist looks like that. Like, you know, that one look that they have always seen a scientist to look. Like no, half of us are under 30. We have Afros, we have locs, we have big eyes, big lips. We wear hoop earrings. Like I can wear Jordans and I can wear heels. Like it’s, it’s such a thing to try to break the stereotype of what a scientist looks like. And even as a woman in science, I know they say that science is a male-dominated field, but honestly, I have worked with way more women at any company I’ve been in than I have a man, as long as when I had one guy and six ladies on the team, always. Now it’s time to set that up and like put it out there, like yeah, we’re here type of thing.

Heidi 
Yeah. I’m with you on that. I think, particularly in the job that I’m in now, it’s overwhelmingly female. I think that might be like at least 75% women at all, like in our department. But the thing that always like gets me, it’s not like it’s not women in science, it’s white women in science. There always seems to be more white women, and I say that as a white woman. 

Kiara 
Definitely, I’ve had my fair share of being the only black person anywhere, like usually. And if I were to see someone else, they would be in a completely different department, like finance. Where I work now is the first time I’ve ever had a black supervisor. That was a woman. 

Heidi 
Oh, that’s really good. 

Kiara 
Yeah and she’s actually the Director of Science. She went to school with my best friend, which happened to be across the street from my college, so it was interesting. And I was just like, oh, wow. So, I’m probably the unicorn in a lot of my friend groups and I say that in a professional manner because I have met so many people where they’re like, you know, you have those typical conversations over, what do you do for work and blah, blah, blah. The minute I say, I’m a chemist. It’s like, wow.So it’s just like, I met so many people who’ve never met a scientist, let alone a black woman scientist. Like how did that happen at the thing? And then it goes back to when we were talking about seeing, we think when we were little, I can probably count on one hand how many black woman scientists that I’ve ever seen in my life and one of them was a science teacher in my elementary school

Heidi 
Yeah. That impact is massive. Isn’t it? So you saw that when you were like, Hmm maybe that could be me? 

Kiara 
Yeah. Right. And then, you know, it’s like, like I said, my grandma was a nurse. I didn’t even know many black doctors or anybody in the medical profession. And I mean, I probably did, but I was young and didn’t really pay attention to it because they probably weren’t in my immediate circle. So it was just like, oh whatever. But then both my grandmothers were nurses and they were really good nurses and then you start to dig a little deeper in, and you find out more about your family and I have a boatload of family members that were in medical fields. You know, doing things like that. So I can understand why, I will say that I am the first scientist in my family thus far. Hopefully, that’ll change. I’m trying to get all the little cousins to pick science. And it’s just, you know, I’m the first of a lot of things. It’s just, it’s just wild that, like, we don’t have an impact as of yet, like we’re making one, but it’s just, you know, the fact that you still have the shock factor when people find out what you do.

And I’ll never forget I went on a date once with this guy and we were talking. And actually, it was with a guy, but it wasn’t the guy I was on a date with it was his friend. And it was so weird that his friend was there, but it was just weird, and you know, everybody’s talking about what they do for work. And at the time I worked at a colour lab. I was working on colour matches for different candle companies. So if you ever see bath and body works, I worked on a few of those things. 

Heidi 
I didn’t even realize that was a job. That sounds like a really cool job.

Kiara 
You’d be surprised at how science can take you to different places. And, the friend, he asks me what I do for work. So I’m telling him what I’m doing at the time and he’s just like, wow, that’s really cool. So I’m like, thank you. And then he says don’t think you’re being too ambitious. And I was like, oh, and he’s just like you’re doing a little bit more than a woman should do. And I was like, well, what exactly? I was like, what exactly is it that a woman should do? Because at this point I feel like you’re just mad. You can’t do it. He was just looking at me and I’m just like, so what is it? Because I got this in the bag. I don’t know about two solid in what I do. So I don’t know. There are just things like that. I know. So, anyway, so it’s just, you know, those small groups of people that just feel like, you’re doing too much or you shouldn’t be here, and I’ve even encountered them at work. So back to the premise of the podcast, it was just like different stories of our lives. Like, you know, we, I even had an episode where, like I said, previously, my best friends and I, I met all of them all except one in this research science program. So all of my best friends are some type of STEM professionals. Whether it’s a computer scientist, biologist, a medical assistant, a nurse, something, we are all, some type of STEM professionals. And we did an episode where it was black women in their professional fields. And how people like to see you do the work and take the credit for the work that you did. But if I step away from this bench, you cannot do what I do and that’s the problem. 

Heidi 
It’s so enraging, they should give you the credit. 

Kiara 
And this is, it’s just like now we have to break all these stigmas, all these stereotypes and just put your foot down that you belong in this field, even dealing with COVID. I know you guys don’t want to talk about COVID so much, but Dr. Kizzmekia is a black woman who basically pioneered the vaccine creation you would think that she would be on the cover of everything. It would be her face seen in the news, but the face that you see the most is Dr Fauci. 

Heidi 
Yeah, that’s true, actually. So Mattel, like the toy brand, like the Barbie makers, they created this like line of, well, I thought it was going to be like a line that was sold in shops, but then someone DM me on Instagram and they were like, no, it’s just like a one-off thing. But they basically made a line of scientists and STEM women in Barbie form and Kizzy wasn’t one of them. And I was like, what are you doing? So they had a, like a doctor from Canada and they had one of the vaccine people that was involved in the UK vaccine rollout, they had her. And I was like, what are you doing? Like you missed such an opportunity here.

Kiara 
Did they even have the women from Hidden Figures? 

Heidi 
I think that it was like a different thing a while ago, but this was super recent. It was in like the last couple of weeks. And I think they had one black woman in the lineup, but it was like eight Barbies. 

Kiara
It’s so crazy because actually one of them just died recently. Katherine Johnson, I want to say it was in the last two years she passed and you know, it took this movie to come out for people to know what really happened, like the real story. That was something I learned in school and not my own, like with my own research type of thing, but it’s also, I feel like I wouldn’t have learned that if I didn’t go to a historically black college, I, would’ve never known kind of thing. Oh, it’s just, it’s just stuff like that. Like now it’s time to just be like, you know what? This is what a scientist looks like. And I use that hashtag on Instagram and in Twitter all the time. Like, this is what we look like too. And that just should go for women across the board, not just black women, but women period, because there are women in STEM fields doing amazing things that nobody wants to talk about. 

Heidi 
Yeah, 100%. What you mentioned about going to a historically black college as well is really important, but because obviously, well, I say obviously, but it’s not. In the UK we don’t have that. We don’t have colleges or universities that are historically black and half black culture embedded within them. So often there are initiatives trying to get underrepresented groups into various parts of the academic system. But even then it’s like when they get there they still come across all of these barriers that they always would have come across anyway. So Stormzy has put together loads of like scholarships and stuff for black kids from like urban areas in London and things, the struggling schools, basically to get these kids out of poverty and into Cambridge and into a really good education. And he’s paying for all of their scholarships and stuff as they go through. But I read an article a couple of weeks ago from one of them that was saying like, yeah, but. You’re still a minority like he’s not going to be able to fund half of the half of these towns. So to go to a certain university, there’s still like eight of us in a class of however many hundred and it’s super important that you’ve had that and you’ve been able to. Have that history is and stuff embedded because we definitely. I was never told about Katherine Johnson at school. Even Henrietta Lacks​​, because it was never mentioned in my undergrad degree, loads of the people that were in that system were using healer cells. And she was just never mentioned. And you’re like, what? Like when you eventually learn about it and you’re just like, this is, this is like a major thing. How has no one, how has no one like, told us how was it not part of the curriculum?

Kiara 
Even Henrietta Lacks, I think her family literally just got a settlement for their grievances of what they did. So this is, this is still like, it’s something still happening. And on top of all the other problems that are going on in this world right now, I can just add that as the icing on the cake.

I can’t get a fair shot. I can’t get equal pay. You don’t trust me to do this type of project because of the way I look, I distract you because we just can’t keep yourself composed enough to do work. Cause I’m too pretty like Jesus. Right? All these distractions and excuses just to keep the woman down. 

Heidi 
It’s just wow. It’s crazy. And even like, so I’ve made a Henrietta Lacks pin that I sell in the shop now. And when I was making it, I was like, all right, I’m going to get in touch with her foundation because I don’t want to do this without that consent. So I’ve messaged them and they were so supportive and yeah. Oh my God, that’d be amazing. And like, they were amazing. So I’d said to them, is there anything you want to change about the pin? Like the colour of it or anything? And they came back and they were like, well, her favourite colour was red. Could you make the background red? So some like symbolism, so I did that and that was all cool. And I said I’m going to donate a pound from every pencil to box the foundation. And then I had to write them this really official letter and say, this is when the donations can start coming in.  will send them to you because there have been so many people basically like riding on the back of the foundation, like having the like, I guess, engagement and like approval, and then not donating the funds back to them. I’m like, what are you doing? Like, what is wrong with these people? Like using that as a, as a way of like selling stuff and then not giving anything back. It’s just like, what do you. I hate people. I say this every episode, I hate people, ​​but there are good ones – like you! 

Kiara 
Oh, thank you so much. You guys are great.

Heidi 
Yeah. We’re just trying to get the word out about good scientists and what scientists look like and how they get to where they are so that we can try and, I guess, push people into thinking anyone can be a scientist because I think that’s, what’s missing at the minute. And like, people just think, oh, like you have to be this like standard textbook nerd at school.

Kiara 
Okay. I was probably a little nerd. I was a teacher’s pet and I always had my head in a textbook or something like that, but I was also just, I was just a good kid. And now that I’m older and I know more about myself and coming to my own form of who I want to be using that type of thing. Yeah, I’ll run this experiment in the lab and I will see you at happy hour and like three hours. It’s a job. It doesn’t need to be like a whole different people think because you know, you’re not blood, sweat and tears. First of all, I’ve read so many horror stories, especially on Twitter, about how people have been crying after work hours in their labs, just breaking down and things like that. And there was a point where I was kind of like, But then it’s like, you know what, if you are good at what you do, you should never have to feel like you’re slack. Like no one you work for a workload should ever have to make you feel that way. That’s another thing that needs to change too, because like, why is someone breaking down in their lab? And then you expect them to go perform five hours later. What, what is the purpose of this? How are you making sure that not only are your assignment, getting the work done, but they’re taking care of both physically, mentally and emotionally

Heidi 
Yeah, 100% and normalizing mental health days. I remember the first time  I emailed my current boss and was like, I’m taking a mental health day, he was like, okay, great, cool. That’s fine. See you later. Like there was no issue. I was like, this is insane. Like I’ve never had. A boss who would have accepted that and like being okay with it and having that is it makes such a massive difference. Like how you perform, how happy you are, like how solid your mental state is so that when you go into work, you can just get on with the job and be fine with it. You don’t need to work extra hours because you aren’t being paid for it. Like you work your paid hours and then go home. 

Kiara 
The era of being overworked and underpaid is over and I will never go back.

I have seen the light and I will never go there. And I tell everybody that I come in contact with, listen, if it doesn’t bring you peace, you don’t need it in your life. That’s what I live by. So that if you disturb any type of my peace, it just can’t be. Even if it’s work, if it’s going to disturb my peace, I’m not doing it. I’m going to tell, you know, give it to someone else

Heidi 
Is that your top tip, your pearl of wisdom for other people?

Kiara 
Yes. Don’t let it disturb your peace and fight for yourself, advocate for yourself. So you have to start knowing. And I know it’s taken me 28 years of life to do that, but you have to start knowing your worth. Otherwise, people are just going to walk all over you like you don’t that, and you’re not. So you gotta just start fighting for yourself. And I always tell people, like I said, don’t be like me. Be better. If it doesn’t bring you peace, let it go. If I do nothing else in the science where there’s no big discovery behind my name or something like that, one thing I’m going to pride myself on in my legacy is my advocate. For people, women in stem. I mean, yes, people overall, but for women in stem, because we deserve a place here just like anybody. 

Heidi 
We sure do. I think a really good point to finish on, because now I’m feeling like pumped, I’m going to go get loads of words. Let’s do this. So we always give everyone like a chance to plug whenever you want at the end.

Kiara 
I’m on Twitter, I’m on Instagram. I’m on Twitter @BlowTheWhittle & Instagram @ki_thechemist/ 

My podcast page is Cognac and Chemistry pod. Oh, I also run a blog / Instagram page that highlights black-owned businesses everywhere. It’s called The Ki Directory. So you’ll find all of that information in my bio. I’m hopefully turning that into an app soon.

Heidi
That’ll be amazing. Well, we’ll put all of those links in the show notes. So if you want to find out more about what Kiara is doing, go and support her buy stuff from that new app when it comes out and go listen to her podcast too. Thank you so much for joining us. We love talking to you. 

Kiara 
Thank you for having me. This was great!