Kihana Wilson

By Kirrin Finch
Kihana Wilson

Kihana Wilson (she/her) is an astrophysicist, writer, science communicator and content creator. As a Black, masculine-presenting lesbian woman, she deeply believes in the power of representation. She is passionate about using her own voice, story, knowledge, and talents for representation and advocacy work to make science and academia more accessible to underrepresented groups traditionally excluded from STEM fields. She has recently graduated from The University of Chicago, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in Astrophysics with a minor in English and Creative Writing as a QuestBridge and Odyssey scholar. She is now working as a Cosmology researcher at Argonne National Laboratory. In her free time she enjoys martial arts, weightlifting, the outdoors, reading, and watching good shows and documentaries with a big bowl of popcorn!

In your opinion, what is a common misconception about scientists, and how do you work to dispel this in your own work?

The most common reaction I get is: “You’re a scientist? You don’t look like a scientist.” Now this is flat-out a micro-aggression, even when the person saying it means well. Both historical representation and an overwhelming majority of the current representation of scientists is of white men, and more specifically cis-het white men. As a Black, masculine-presenting lesbian woman, my existence in the scientific and academic spaces I inhabit works to dispel this misconception.


Do people ever assume that you’re a genius? What do you have to say to that?

I make sure to highlight in my content that science doesn’t require a superhuman level of intelligence. I am nothing close to being a genius; however, I am passionate, disciplined, motivated, and creative! Those are some (though not all) of the qualities of becoming a scientist. Like any other occupation, scientists are trained to be scientists. I also ensure that I’m as open and transparent as I can be about my struggles, pitfalls, failures, and challenges as a former student and in my new role as a researcher.

What are some of the barriers you’ve had to overcome in order to become the scientist you are today? 

People have suggested that I must come from a wealthy or privileged background to be a scientist, and to study something as niche as astrophysics. While it is true that pursuing something like astrophysics requires a great deal of resources and exposure, things which are easier for people of greater economic means to obtain, it does not necessarily mean that people from a poor background, like myself, cannot obtain them. I am here because I exposed myself to this field through my own curiosity at a young age, and I sought out opportunities to push myself further into the world of astrophysics. This demonstration of drive caught the attention of people in my life who did possess the means to provide me with resources. I know I am the exception to the rule; therefore so much of the work I do is to ensure that there are fewer barriers for future generations of aspiring scholars coming up from backgrounds similar to my own.


How do you speak to the truth of your experiences on your platforms?

I am never shy about telling people about my poor background, about the fact that I am the first person in my family to go to college, let alone to receive a science degree, and will be the first to obtain a PhD. I am honest about attending college on a full scholarship, and having to work part-time jobs to support myself because sometimes the scholarship wasn’t enough. I talk about how that made my college experience especially challenging and difficult at times, how it impacted my grades and mental health. How the systems at my university oftentimes weren’t designed with students like myself in mind. This authenticity, I’ve found, encourages and inspires people from similar economic backgrounds.

On your Instagram page, you talk about unapologetic representation a lot. How do you define that?

My motto is “busting barriers in science through unapologetic representation,” with “unapologetic representation” being my catchphrase and the fundamental tenet of what I do. I want to show other Black and brown people, women, LGBTQ+ folk, and every combination thereof, that if they have an interest in a scientific or academic field that piques their curiosity, they can do it. And they can do it while being themselves.

For me, unapologetic representation is both how you carry yourself, and moreover, a state of mind! When I step into a space, I step into it as authentically and as fully myself as possible. I do not try to make myself small or silent. I walk the halls with my head held high! When I speak, I speak clearly, confidently, and firmly. I have a right to take up this space both with my physical presence and with my voice, meaning I will offer my insights, my experience, my contributions, my thoughts, my perspective. I will speak out, stand up, and advocate for myself and others who are marginalized in this space.


There’s a lot more to being a professional in any field than the way we look, but at Kirrin Finch, we believe that dressing authentically makes you the best version of yourself. Tell us about your explorations with clothes, gender expression, and finding your confidence in every space you occupy.

I developed a self-assuredness, confidence, and social fluency I had never known prior to college, much of which I credit to discovering my masculine gender expression and becoming comfortable in my body. My freshman year of college was the first time I realized I was beautiful, and truly felt it. That first year was certainly my “baby stud” phase, and I have terribly cringey photos of baggy pants with flannels of uncomplimentary colors and textures as proof. Oh—and the beanies, my god, the beanies! It wasn’t until the latter half of my third year when I truly found and stepped into my style…and wore it with a pride that none of my former selves could recognize. Finding the types of clothes I like, finding the specific cuts of shirts that hug my body in just the right ways and just the right spots. Finding the size of pants that fit properly and affirmingly. Finding my taste in jewelry, growing a cap collection that has grown too large for my wallet and a comparatively small shoe collection that doesn’t fit the stereotype of a shoe-obsessed stud. And especially, developing an intimate and keen eye for styling that does not rely on purchasing the most expensive brands or following fashion trends, but following my own masculine internal compass. My clothes and shoes and accessories don’t hold more value than I myself do, but my ability to control and manipulate them in conjunction with the inner masculinity I’ve found within myself provides me an air of calm and pride and self-love that follows me into each and every space I enter.


Can you share a favorite outfit or piece of clothing that makes you feel particularly empowered or expresses your identity as a scientist and a queer Black woman? What about it resonates with you?

I can’t say that I have one singular or even a couple favorite outfits. For me, feeling empowered through my clothing comes from the process of putting outfits together. Layering and accessorizing clothing items in particular ways allows me to express myself as a Black queer scientist in a multitude of ways. It adds a Black queer masculine twang to the boring and basic informal wear of academia. For instance, adding flavor to a button down by keeping the top two buttons open and showing off a simple, clean chain. Using jewelry to bring a more street style vibe to a suit for a professional event like a conference is another way I do it. It’s the details like this that I pay particular attention to when curating outfits. Putting this attention to detail and care into my outfits feels like I’m imbuing them with a confidence, self-assuredness, a flair of authenticity that I need. It gives me that strong sense of identity and mental fortitude which I then carry with me into the physical spaces I navigate as ‘the only’, spaces which can often be isolating, lonely, or even microaggressive.

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