SJC Long Island alumnus Julia Montgomery, who earned a B.S. in Chemistry from St. Josephs in 2019, has received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship this spring while pursuing her Ph.D. in Biochemistry.
Montgomery credits her time and experience at St. Josephs for helping her get where she is today.
“I am over the moon at the opportunity to consider myself an NSF funded fellow,” said Montgomery, the first graduate student in the biochemistry department at Virginia Tech to receive the fellowship. “I attribute my education and efforts at St. Joseph’s for getting me to this point.”
Montgomery, 24, says the fellowship covers her tuition and fees, provides her with a stipend, and offers her opportunities and events for professional development.
Finding Her Place as a First-Generation College Student
Montgomery, a first-generation college student, had no idea what higher education would entail upon her start at SJC Long Island.
“I struggled my first year at St. Joe’s, and my grades weren’t exactly the best. I went into academic probation,” said Montgomery, who ended up excelling to the point where she tutored in the Office for Tutoring and Academic Development. “This experience taught me to be humble and persevere, and these attributes have been invaluable.”
Although she started out as a biology major, Montgomery decided to make the switch to chemistry during her sophomore year.
“I found myself wanting to know the why and how of the biological processes I was learning about,” she said. “I initially struggled with my chemistry classes, but when I took Organic Chemistry, I hit a stride with the material and never looked back. I always tried to strike a good balance between my biology and chemistry knowledge, but I absolutely have a bias towards chemistry.”
Montgomery thanks Andrea Stadler, Ph.D., associate professor and associate chair of physical sciences and chemistry, and Kathleen Blumenthal, director of the Office for Tutoring and Academic Development, for inspiring her during her time at St. Joseph’s.
“Both Dr. Stadler and Ms. Katie Blumenthal served as role models for strong women in higher education, and they provided me with the environments to grow in ways beyond my GPA,” she said.
Now, Montgomery hopes to some day teach at the College level and potentially work in a national lab.
“I have a passion for scientific communication, and helping the general public understand science, as it is largely inaccessible to the average person,” she said.
Pursuing a Ph.D.
While Montgomery originally planned on becoming a veterinarian, it was because of her senior thesis at St. Joseph’s that she ended up changing her mind.
“Deciding to do a Ph.D. was not an easy journey,” said Montgomery, a 2015 graduate of Eastport-South Manor Junior-Senior High School. “During my years at St. Joseph’s, I found myself becoming infatuated with science on a deeper level.
“The opportunity to work on my own research project in the form of a senior thesis solidified it for me,” she continued. “While I had already started the process of graduate school applications by then, it left me excited to be in an environment electrified by new discoveries.”
Montgomery began her studies at Virginia Tech in fall 2019, where her research is in computational biochemistry.
“We use computers to simulate biological processes to better understand how they work on an atomistic scale,” she said. “I personally research how drugs like ibuprofen enter and interact with our cells. The information we gain from this research can eventually be leveraged to help design better drugs with hopefully fewer side effects.”
Montgomery is thankful for her family’s support along educational journey.
“My family has always encouraged me to do my best but still enjoy myself,” said Montgomery, who also serves as a teaching assistant at Virginia Tech. “They have taught me to be a hard worker, but to still take time to breathe. Graduate school can be overwhelming, especially during a pandemic. But their support and encouragement to do my best without completely overwhelming myself has been vital to my success. They continue to inspire and motivate me.”