Shawn Hercules: Drag Performer and Cancer Researcher

Meet Shawn Hercules, a Canadian scientist originally from Barbados who uses the power of drag to share awareness and educate people about science.


Hercules, who identifies as non-binary and uses he/them pronouns, conducts life-changing research on how women of African ancestry disproportionately pass away from breast cancer and is working towards solutions to prevent it from ever starting. On top of his research, they are a co-founder and producer of Science is a Drag, the world’s first science drag show, and performs in it to showcase his work!


Photo courtesy of Shawn Hercules.

Early Life

Growing up in Barbados, Hercules remembers always being fascinated by science and curious about everything, always asking their mom questions about the world. In a lifelong pursuit to satisfy this curiosity, he earned both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of the West Indies in Barbados and moved to Canada to pursue their Ph.D. at McMaster University.


Ever since he was a child, Hercules, otherwise known as Dr. Shawn online, knew that they wanted to work with underrepresented groups and leave an impact.


Dr. Shawn

Throughout their time in school, Hercules maintained an incredible resume, studying diseases that cause premature death in Barbados and graduating with honors– on top of being a student leader and discovering his identity away from home. At McMaster, he focused his research on breast cancer and why women of African ancestry die at a higher rate compared to Caucasian women. They graduated with a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology and Epidemiology as valedictorian for the Engineering & Science Faculties in the fall of 2021.


Today, they research populations that are at high risk for breast cancer at UHN’s Princess Margaret Cancer Center, developing novel detection technologies to prevent breast cancer before it can even begin. He created an innovative High-Risk Breast Cancer Registry at Princess Margaret to identify high-risk patients, as well as researching the cells in pre-cancerous breasts to identify changes in the tissue for risk stratification and prevention.



Even as a child in Barbados, Hercules knew that he wasn’t straight. Discouraged by the homophobia that he experienced in his community, he wasn’t able to outwardly express himself until moving to Canada in 2015 for school. Here, Hercules was able to find a community that encouraged him to be his authentic self.


“I realized that being one’s authentic self can lead to success and can be celebrated,” Dr. Shawn said in his valedictorian speech before quoting Rihanna’s song “Shine Bright Like a Diamond.”


Science is a Drag

In 2019, Hercules teamed up with other local Toronto students to create Science is a Drag, the world’s first science-themed drag show. Dedicated to empowering queer scientists while also being an engaging science communication tool, Science is a Drag allows STEM professionals to share their research and experience through fun and empowering performances.


They’ve become the world’s longest-running science drag show and work with communities all over the world to produce satellite shows, challenging the heteronormative stereotypes of science everywhere.


Today, on top of researching and sitting on different boards at UHN, Dr. Shawn is a co-producer of Science is a Drag– and performs as Rawbyn Diamonds in the show. He proudly identifies as Black and queer, calling himself both an ‘island boy’ and a ‘hot girl.’


“You can be queer, and you can be a great scientist,” Hercules said in an interview with Science World, “and lots of people don’t really see that intersection… If we have more diverse voices, we can ask more diverse questions. We can conduct our experiments in different ways that we never thought of before because we perhaps weren’t given that chance or that pedestal to be seen.”


Keep up with Shawn: