Disability Advocacy in STEM

Updated: Feb 26

Content Warning: This post discusses mental illness and suicide.

Headshot of Ariana

Hi, my name is Ariana Castillo (she/her/ella), and I am a guest for this week’s Grad Chat! I am so excited to be here.


I am a Disabled, Latinx PhD student in Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University with a focus on atmospheric dynamics, atmospheric chemistry, and climate. I also do part-time research at NASA Langley Research Center studying wildfire emissions. Starting graduate school in the middle of a pandemic has been a challenge and my first semester has not gone as planned…


Actually, becoming a scientist was far from my original plan when I started studying meteorology at Texas A&M University in 2015. I was diagnosed with severe depression, anxiety, panic, and bipolar disorders in the middle of undergrad, which I denied for a long time. From withdrawing due to my life-threatening illnesses and an attempt on my life to interning at NASA and applying to graduate school, and graduating late, my unconventional journey opened my eyes to ableism, elitism, and racism in academia. Navigating my way through the system that was not built for me, I learned that I had to advocate not just for myself, but for mental health and Disabled communities. Accessibility and accommodations are not an advantage when the Disabled community has been overlooked, we have a right to be in academia, too!


During my Friday Instagram takeover and Saturday Grad Chat, I will discuss “Disability Advocacy in STEM” and my experiences with invisible disabilities in academia, utilizing coping mechanisms in a rigorous and technical field, and balancing work and life. I am far from perfect, but setbacks have allowed me to grow. I have learned that my disabilities are not liabilities but are parts of me that have allowed me to thrive!


Feel free to ask any questions about mental health, Disability advocacy, grad school, etc. in a comment or DM to @PhD_Balance. I am thankful to be here and I look forward to meeting y’all!

Ariana will takeover the PhD Balance Instagram account today before appearing as our Grad Chat special guest with Fay to talk about Disability Advocacy in STEM. Join the Youtube Livestream on Saturday (11/28) using this link.


You can also find Ariana on Twitter (@ArianaElena97 & @DisMHMatters) to learn more about her mental health journey and advocacy.


You can also now listen to all our Grad Chat episodes as a podcast, which is hosted on Anchor FM and available on all major streaming services!