“My interest in biology stemmed from a desire to understand the way things work, and I like math because it facilitates the elegant descriptions of complex problems.” This led her to a summer undergraduate research program at Albany Medical College entitled “Cross Training in the Biomedical Sciences.” The program was designed to give undergraduate students studying quantitative sciences experience in a biological setting.
Julia studied heart development in chickens, attempting to encourage blood cell precursors to transdifferentiate into heart tissue. The following summer she undertook a more computational research project optimizing a mathematical model of human blood flow.
When the time came to choose a graduate school, Julia was intrigued by the possibility of moving to New York City but was unsure about committing to spending several years there. “Since I grew up in a very rural area, I was unsure I’d be happy living in a big city. In CBM, I was able to use my rotations to try out different research topics and different cities.” She found New York City was an enjoyable place to live and joined Zhirong Bao’s lab at Sloan-Kettering. She is currently building an automated phenotyping system to analyze time-lapse images of developing C. elegans embryos. Her project is truly interdisciplinary, combining statistics, developmental biology, computational geometry, and visualization. “It was important to me to join a graduate program where I would be able to collect and analyze my own data. My current lab has some members who are strictly computational and others who are strictly experimental, so I’m always considering how to explain my results to different types of scientists.”