• Portrait photo of Aflah Hanafiah
  • Aflah Hanafiah in the lab

Aflah's Story (she/her)

I am a Malay Muslim transwoman, and I currently work as a graduate assistant at Penn State University where I study epigenetic regulation of mammalian development. My story is riddled with challenges and obstacles, but it’s not void of hope and grace.

I grew up in a queer-phobic country where those who deviate from the gender norms are viewed as impure and diseased. I learned at an early age that I must conceal my queer identity and put on a mask so that I can navigate safely within society. During my high-school years, I found that science, particularly biology, was the one place that I felt safe. I made it my goal to excel in academics to qualify for a government sponsorship to pursue my studies abroad. As my family is not financially privileged, this was the only way I could move forward.

I never thought that I would end up in the U.S. Fortunately, I was awarded a scholarship that led me to Rochester Institute of Technology, where I pursued my bachelor’s degree. There, I took advantage of the opportunities to start anew. My undergraduate research advisor, the late Dr. Irene Evans, played a big role in opening doors for me to move forward post-graduation. Without her mentorship and guidance, I doubt I would be where I am now. As I slowly peel away the mask that I once donned and delve further into science, I become more and more of the self that I saw as a child.