Exploring a Wealth of Options to Pursue Unique Educational Paths

Julia Treese, E’24, chemical engineering, started her Northeastern journey in the Explore program. After three co-ops and a variety of extracurriculars, she has found that biotech is her calling.

Julia Treese, E’24, chemical engineering, wanted options when she chose Northeastern, and she knew it could offer the opportunities she was looking for.

“I actually came in completely undecided in the Explore program, and I enjoyed going to the engineering open houses and learning more about different things that people were doing with engineering degrees,” she says.

As part of the introductory course for the Explore program, she had to visit events for different majors she was potentially interested in. Making the right choice took some work, but she found that chemical engineering was the best option for her.

“I wanted to keep my options open,” Treese says. “I wasn’t really sure exactly what within that I was interested in, but it seemed like a way to diversify my options.”

Her first co-op was at CONTINUUS Pharmaceuticals. The company’s main role is manufacturing, but Treese worked specifically with the analytics team. This work mostly consisted of routine lab operations, but it gave her the chance to get a sense of how the manufacturing process was conducted. Between the chemical engineering and biotech knowledge she gained, it was a successful introduction to the workforce.

“[It] made me want to continue with more experimental work for future co-ops,” Treese says. “It also introduced me to the pharmaceutical industry and led me to learn that I was a little bit more interested in biotech rather than the straight chemical side of things.”

Treese took advantage of this new interest in biotech on her second co-op at Sana Biotechnology, Inc. as part of the upstream process development team. Her work experience there gave her just as much a sense of an educational path as a career path, and it was during her time at Sana that she made a significant decision about her further education.

“A PhD is really useful and valuable in the biotech industry if you want to go into research and development roles that are higher-level scientific roles, and so that’s how I decided that I wanted to pursue a PhD,” Treese says.

Treese with her team at Sana after a volunteering event.

She also found inspiration in the people she worked with at Sana. In particular, Noelle Colant, her manager, showed Treese the true range of possibilities when it comes to pursuing a PhD.

“She had actually done her PhD in the UK after graduating from MIT for her undergrad,” Treese says. “Then she worked in consulting for a bit and came back to biotech.”

Needa Brown, her principal investigator, also gave her a great deal of guidance.

“She has shown very true dedication to the research and developing students in terms of helping them develop research skills,” Treese says.

Once she returned to the classroom, Treese found that the work she did on co-op gave her a lot of context for the work she continued in her classes, particularly in her Process Control course.

“We’re learning about certain types of control systems, and the bioreactors that we were using at Sana obviously had many types of control systems in them,” Treese says. “So it’s nice to be able to know how these control systems that we’re learning about are applied in industry.”

Co-op gave Treese a solid understanding of chemical engineering and biotech, but it also provided her with knowledge and opportunities that could be used across many more industries.

“Even after I went on co-op in pharmaceutical and biotech industries, I started understanding better the co-ops that my friends in different industries were also doing, just because I think I learned how to ask better questions and observe the work,” Treese says.

In terms of changing perspectives, she also gained a better understanding of specifically what type of work she wants to do within the biotech industry. Working at CONTINUUS helped her realize that analytics weren’t for her, but she maintained an interest in many of the concepts that she dealt with there. Furthermore, Sana helped her confirm her interest in a PhD.

Treese also completed a third co-op as an undergraduate researcher in the Nanomedicine Innovation Center at Northeastern. She was paired with this research lab in partnership with the CaNCURE program, which provides opportunities for students to conduct cancer research. During her time in the lab, she worked with BioE/ChE University Distinguished Professor Srinivas Sridhar.

Outside of co-op, Treese has stayed deeply involved with the Society of Women Engineers, or SWE, since her first year, even serving as president and vice president among other positions. For her, SWE was the ultimate opportunity to connect with women who share a deep passion for engineering and understand gender-related struggles within the industry. She also found it to be an excellent networking resource for co-op.

“The networking I did through a SWE networking event helped me get my second co-op at Sana because I talked to the person who eventually interviewed me there,” Treese says.

She was also involved with the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, ChemE Car, and Engineers Without Borders. These opportunities provided a plethora of hands-on experiences that not only prepared her for co-op but enhanced her experience after co-op. They took her to several conferences across the country, further expanding her already wide network.

Treese at a conference for the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

Treese also applied for and received Northeastern’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships’ PEAK Summit Award and a PEAK Shout-It-Out Travel Award, which allowed her to attend a national conference in Orlando for a poster presentation.

“That felt really big for me because it was the first time that I had ever really presented research… to a more public audience,” she says.

After grad school, Treese hopes to make a real impact on life-saving therapies for patients, albeit with a specific goal in mind.

“I want to do that in a way that prioritizes patients,” she says.

Related Faculty: Srinivas Sridhar

Related Departments:Chemical Engineering