Julia Curran ’12 credits early experiences of seeing people in her life affected by disease as a prime motivator for studying science. She was fortunate to find her first STEM role model in her middle school science teacher, who “not only encouraged me but also challenged me and supported me in pursuit of more advanced scientific work.” As an undergraduate, she found a mentor in Dr. Hang Xiao in the food science department, with whom she explored the effects of dietary compounds on cancer cell growth. Now, in her career as a research associate at Takeda Oncology, she is dedicated to giving back to women in the scientific community.
When you ask Julia to describe the best part of her undergraduate experience, one word comes up time and again: community. She found this out from her earliest days at UMass Amherst in a Residential Academic Program (RAP), where students live on the same floor and take classes together during their first year. Her RAP experience “fostered a learning environment within the dormitory and students were able to connect easily. Although we went on to pursue different majors and career paths, this became my core group of friends through my four years of college and I am still in close contact with all of them today.”
She also found faculty supportive of her independent study work. “I met frequently with faculty members to discuss my work and research and they provided me with the opportunity to present my research periodically. This allowed me to grow confident in my abilities, and I developed effective written and verbal communication skills.” She was also supported by Commonwealth Honors College, who provided the opportunity to present her thesis at the Undergraduate Research Conference.
Curran is now a research associate in analytical development for the biologics group at Takeda Oncology, a position that she obtained by using her thesis and independent study research during the interview process. She believes that “these experiences showcased the lab skills I developed, as well as the advanced analytical and problem-solving skills that are required for the job.”
Recently, Curran was named the recipient of the WEST Giving Back Award, given to women in the science and technology fields who have made a profound impact on society. She shares her passion for science as a STEM mentor through Takeda Oncology’s DIGITS group, and as a volunteer for the Healthcare Women’s Association as a member of the ambassador and membership committees. From helping to organize events to providing advice on career advancement, Curran is an advocate for women in STEM fields at any point in their career and is constantly looking for new opportunities to bring women together to build bridges and further their success.
To any prospective student considering joining UMass Amherst’s Commonwealth Honors College, Curran says, “Because UMass Amherst is so large, it really challenges you to seek out the opportunities that you want. Commonwealth Honors College, being smaller is very supportive and helps you narrow down the choices.” She cautions that an important life skill, however, is that students need to be proactive in seeking out opportunities. “Commonwealth Honors College does an excellent job of helping you take advantage of opportunities, but you are responsible for your own path. The College is there to help you pave it.”