College at 12, Ph.D at 23 for UW grad

Julia Nepper went to college when she was 12 years old because her parents looked at the education she was getting and didn’t like it.

“We didn’t think she was being challenged enough,” said her mother, Nadine Nepper. “It was suggested if we wanted her to excel, we’d have to pull her out and homeschool her.”

They did and she advanced quickly enough to attend community college at 12, which required one of her parents to be with her at all times.

“Most of the people I’ve met, in my life, could have done what I did if they had the right support,” Julia tells a Jackson, Miss., TV station. “I don’t fault my parents, pushing me, with regards to my education. Clearly, I could handle it and it worked. So they must have done something right.”

Last month, she got her Ph.D from the University of Wisconsin, says. She’s 23.

Nepper said her studies — her thesis was on communities of E.coli bacteria — prepared her for employment in biotech or biopharmaceuticals, or further research in microbiology.

She is looking at something a bit different, however.

“I do love research but I am interested in science outreach and communication,” said Nepper, who has done some student outreach on campus and helped develop science activities for K-12 students and science festivals.

“That’s something I really enjoyed and I’m hoping I can find a career in that area,” she said.

She says she’s trying to use her moment of fame to inspire others.

“The biggest thing for any young women is don’t be afraid to be confident. Even if you’re not confident, fake it. Stand up straight, say what you believe and say it loudly and clearly. I think that made the biggest difference in my life, just being confident.”

She tells the Mississippi TV station she’d like to get a job in Japan.

  • MrE85

    Congratulations, Dr. Lewis. I think you’ll go far, even if you don’t more to Japan.

  • Al

    Good luck to her. I’m glad kids have options to do this, and also to not do this.

  • jon

    //”We didn’t think she was being challenged enough”

    I suspect this is all too common in the world of public (and likely private) schooling.

    Simple math suggests half the kids are above average…

    When I was in school we had a “gifted and talented” class (I was in it from 3rd grade till highschool) and we had everyone else.

    But even there I feel like half the teachers didn’t know what to do with “gifted and talented kids” they wanted to teach us, and we wanted to learn, but they also didn’t want to move us to far ahead of the rest of the grade level…
    We got some weird experimental units here and there to fill the time… Some of them very poorly vetted (at least in my opinion).
    It just seems like a waste of time in retrospect…

    Honestly, were we to try to do the course work I took in community college in 7th grade, I think a majority of my “gifted” class at the time would have managed just fine.

    Reflecting through the community college classes I took senior year of high school (physics, chemistry, pre-calc, calc, WWII history, problem solving with C++) the only thing I did in high school classes that I needed for them was some geometry… (for the physics, and pre-calc) everything else required a level of knowledge that I would venture most of my “gifted class” had in 7th grade.
    Personally my writing skills would have been a little weak for the history class… but My writing skills were weak compared to the rest of my 7th grade class too…