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#STEMStories: Dyna, Microbiologist, USA

1. Introduce yourself, who are you what do you do?

Hi! My name is Dyna Cockus Rose, and I’m a drag queen! I live and perform in the SF Bay Area where I love to combine my “nerdy” passions for science and nature with something over-the-top, silly, glamorous, sexy and humorous! By day, I’m usually out of drag, where I go by my legal name, Dylan McClung, and work as a Microbiology PhD student at UC Berkeley.

2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do?

Arriving at this point in life was unexpected and is still evolving. I remember in 7th grade thinking that I wanted to be a scientist, so I stuck with that general direction. Then in 8th grade, I auditioned for our school’s musical, High School Musical. I didn’t have any singing or acting experience at that point, but afterwards, I realized that I loved being on the stage. I performed in a couple more school productions until I decided to focus on taking more AP science classes instead of extra-curriculars. That lead me into college where I declared a biology major. In my sophomore year, I went to our campus’s annual drag show (my first ever). I thought it was so cool, but I was so worried about the stigma around cross dressing. I didn’t take the plunge until about 4 years later (in my 2nd year of graduate school). I had seen more local drag shows, became obsessed with RuPaul’s Drag Race, and decided that it was time for me to try it out. I found a drag mentor and performed for the first time a few months later! Over the next year and a half, I worked on building my confidence as a performer. However, I wanted to combine my passions for science with drag. I wanted to capitalize on my unique set of skills and stand out from the many queens in the Bay Area. A labmate heard about a campus science communication competition (the UCB Bear Slam) and told me to apply as Dyna. I ended up being chosen as one of seven contestants, and won the competition! We each gave 10 minute talks about our research, but had to make them understandable and entertaining, along with scientific. Giving a talk in drag really set in motion my current pursuits of incorporating science into my drag, and more drag into my science! One of my missions is to use drag as a way of engaging the public so that I can help create a more scientifically literate society. At the same time, I want to help expand the idea of “who/what a scientist is” by showing that scientists come in many kinds of packages - mine just happens to rhinestoned and glittery.

3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings?

Teaching other people science really gets me jazzed! Honest! I’ve realized through my PhD that I find much more joy in teaching and mentoring than physically performing experiments or analyzing data. Seeing someone have that “aha” moment or noticing the glimmer of intrigue in their eyes really inspires me to keep sharing science with others.

4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story?

As I mentioned above, I participated and won the UC Berkeley Bear Slam 2018 after giving a scientific talk about my research in drag. That night, I was elated! I practiced a ton, I combined two very different fields into a coherent presentation, and I had fun! Yet the next day, all of those happy feelings vanished. For no particular reason. I didn’t feel like myself, so after a few weeks, I decided to speak to a therapist. Through my time in therapy, I realized that I wasn’t being very kind to myself. And that lack of kindness had been damaging my psyche for multiple years. Through therapy, I started to shift my perspective to change the conversation in my head. I started to realize my value, to recognize my skills and my shortcomings, and to set realistic expectations. When I’m feeling stressed out, I try to be kind to myself. If I need a break, I take it without feeling shame or guilt. For me, that’s usually watching TV or playing video games. Also, I remind myself that I’m not perfect and that no one is expecting perfection. That usually helps me break down and identify what needs to get done, and what would be nice if I’m feeling extra and have time.

5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this?

My undergraduate research advisor, Dr. KT Elliott, is a huge role model for me. She introduced me to microbiology and is the reason that I fell in love with this field. Her excitement for science is infectious (pun intended)! She was an incredible mentor/teacher to me; she set high expectations, was direct and stern with issues, but had such a kind and caring heart. Her mentoring style inspires me and is what motivates me to share as much as I can with my mentees and students.

6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time?

Be kinder to yourself, and be authentically you. You’ll be surprised by how many people will be inspired by that.

7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?

  1. Find a mentor who genuinely supports you, your goals, and your successes.
  2. Surround yourself with people who have similar but non-competing goals. This will be motivating for everyone, without causing unnecessary stress from competition.
  3. Be kind to yourself

8. How do you measure your success?

This is super cliché, but I measure my success by my happiness.

9. Where can we find out more about your work?

Follow my social media accounts!

10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?

Twitter: @dynacockusrose
Instagram: @dynacockusrose

YouTube is coming soon!