NC woman who started college at 12, earned Ph.D. by 23, reflects on life in the working world

Very few 23-year-olds can say they have a doctorate. Dr. Julia Nepper is one of them.
Updated: Apr. 17, 2019 at 2:40 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - At the age of 23, young adults are likely graduating college, starting careers, or figuring out what they want to do. Very few 23-year-olds can say they have a doctorate. Dr. Julia Nepper is one of them.

The Burgaw native is now 24 years old, and checked in with WECT via Skype to reflect on life in the working world.

Nepper began college courses at Cape Fear Community College when she was just 12 years old. At 14, she earned her associate’s degree, and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from UNCW by the time she was 16.

At 23, she graduated the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a doctorate in biophysics in Dec. 2017.

Since graduating, she has gotten a full time job at Promega, a biotech corporation in Madison.

"They make tools for life science researchers so I’m in the marketing department there. I’m a science writer so I do like basically anything writing-related to science like blog posts and technical manual editing and feature articles, all of that sort of thing. So, that’s what I’ve been up to,” Nepper said.

After being a student for most of her life, she has found the working world to be a nice change of pace.

“The working world is certainly different from school. It’s nice to not be tested every month or so but I think it’s been going well so far,” she said.

That’s not to say it does not come without its challenges. Like other former students, Nepper found some aspects of ‘adulting’ took time to get used to.

“The one thing that’s pretty different about the working world is the 9-5 schedule," she said. "Because when I was a student I could pretty much set my own schedule. So that’s different and I don’t get as much vacation time as I used to but it’s also nice to be taken seriously because now I’m done with school. I’m no longer a student, I’m just like a colleague of other people so that’s pretty nice. I’ve had a good time because I really enjoy where I work, it’s a really great place to work.”

Her unique job encompasses her love for science and writing, and is different day-to-day.

“What I really like about my job is that it is a lot of different things. It’s basically anything that could be involved with science writing which is great for me because this is my first job out of college. I’m not really sure where I want to go yet and what I want to do, so I’m really glad I’m not locked into like I am editing technical manuals for the rest of my life,” she said.

The soon-to-be 25-year-old said she often feels older than she really is.

“Even though I am the age that I am I feel like I’ve had a lot more life experience than a lot of people my age have because I’ve traveled internationally. I’ve been to four different colleges, I’ve just done so much different stuff, done research in six different areas so yeah I kind of feel older than I am,” Nepper said.

But she still enjoys things most twenty-somethings do, especially naps.

“I’m a huge nerd so I do things like play Magic The Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons, video games, reading. Finally the weather here has become nicer so I’ve been going outside and biking more, that’s been really nice. That’s mainly what I do. That and naps,” she said.

Nepper has some advice for anyone else who is taking on life in a non-traditional way.

“I would say there’s no such thing as an alternate route because everyone’s path is different, so you get the idea that things will be very stepwise. Let’s say you want to become a medical doctor, you go to high school, you go to college, you go to med school, you do your residency, etc. etc. But that’s not always how it works. Maybe you dropout of high school and you join the Peace Corps, and you do something else for a while. No one’s life is linear so I wouldn’t worry about deviating from whatever path people expect you to go on, because it’s going to be different for everybody,” she said.

As for what’s next? Nepper’s mother Nadine told WECT in 2017 that she hopes her daughter would be moving back home after school.

However, Nepper says she loves life in Madison and believes she is there to stay.

"I see myself working at Promega probably for a while at least. And the nice thing is there’s upward mobility there so I can be there for a long time if I really wanted to. But right now I’m just taking it a little easy, appreciating being done with school and having a job and things just kind of being stable for a while.”

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