Ariana Rivens

Senior Ariana Rivens is an undergraduate researcher within the UNC College of Arts & Sciences majoring in psychology and neuroscience, with minors in social and economic justice and history. She is also a McNair Scholar. Her research focuses on the risk and resiliency of marginalized racial and ethnic populations as they react to and cope with stress.

a young African-American womanphoto by Alyssa LaFaro
February 7th, 2018

When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Describe your research in five words.

“Helping marginalized populations overcome stress.”

I’d always loved aquatic life, but after seeing a jellyfish on the shore up close and personal, I decided against pursuing marine biology in favor of something with less tentacles. My second career plan was architecture. I just knew that I was going to be responsible for building places of great excitement — like theaters, art studios, and ice cream shops — with blue roofs and breathtaking designs. After job shadowing, I realized that my version of architecture was not so realistic and decided to foster my strengths in other places.

Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose psychology as your subject of study.

I fell in love with psychology because it is like a never-ending story about humans trying to live their lives the best way they know how. There are pages and pages already written by past scholars who had contributed anecdotes, theories, ideas, and research studies of all types — but I knew there was so much more to add into the next chapters, and I wanted to be an author. Coming to UNC helped me hone my interests on clinical psychology, but there was no doubt in my mind I’d end up in a field that was focused on the emotional health of others.

two young African-American girls hold solar eclipse posters

Rivens and a friend at Morehead Planetarium’s Solar Eclipse Celebration last August.

Tell us about a time you encountered a tricky problem. How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?

A few years ago, I overcommitted myself to research labs, campus organizations, and full class/work schedules with typical sophomore eagerness — all driven by the fact that I felt like I wasn’t spending my time at Carolina meaningfully if I said “no” to any opportunity that sounded remotely interesting. I learned the importance of recognizing my own limits and saying “no” as a form of self-care. I’m fortunate to have support systems that remind me that my worth is not in what I produce, but how I live my life and invest in things I’m passionate about organically.

What are your passions outside of science? And why do you feel it’s important to have them?

I had the privilege of going on the South East Asia Summer (SEAS) trip as a rising sophomore for my first voyage out of the country, and it transformed my life. I can’t wait to explore more of the world. I also love the performing arts, and appreciate the power of artistic expression. Theatre productions and spoken word performances are some of the most rejuvenating spaces to be in. Lastly, I have been fortunate to spend the last two years as a resident advisor for on-campus students. I’ve learned so much about mentorship outside of the research realm, and hope I’m paying it forward.

Women in Science Wednesday highlights UNC researchers at all levels of their careers across dozens of fields. From nursing to economics to computer science, women at Carolina excel in research, mentorship, and advocacy. Click here to nominate an exceptional scientist.