My sister My sidekick: Julia and Mariel

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Thrilled to be featuring two brilliant sisters today, Julia and Mariel Roberts. Julia and Mariel grew up in Rochester, New York with their parents and older brother David. They grew up singing and dancing in their home (mostly to ABBA and Spice Girls) and enjoyed doing show choir, and a cappella groups in high school and college. But they left their musical careers behind to pursue what really makes them happy: medicine. This past year Julia finished her final year of Med school at NYU while Mariel completed her first year. Both at NYU. They were lucky enough to live together during this past year, and grab coffee when they desperately needed a break.


Keep reading to hear about their favorite childhood memory in Australia, who was always late growing up, and their family’s after dinner music tradition…

Photography by the talented Adam Welker. Produced by Ashley Aikele.

First some intros:

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Julia just finished her last year of med school at NYU and recently moved to Boston to start her residency. She graduated in internal medicine and has yet to decide if she will specialize in Pulmonary/Critical Care Medicine or Cardiology. Recently Julia got engaged to her boyfriend of 8 years and is excited to tie the knot next year. Congrats!! Julia is a coffee addict who loves trying new restaurants, yoga, spinning, and cooking/entertaining. She’s driven, thoughtful, and a problem solver. All perfect traits for a doctor, wouldn’t you say?

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Mariel has big dreams of a career in academia, with the hopes of becoming the head of her own research lab and teaching as a professor at a research university. She is passionate about understanding how the brain works, the biological processes and mechanisms underlying human perception, cognition, awareness, and even consciousness. Mariel is a laid-back, open-minded and optimistic person and thinks one of the most important activities to do in life is laugh a lot, especially at yourself. As a future researcher, she’s excited to forge the way and become a mentor to a younger generation of scientists, especially to women and minorities who are currently underrepresented at the highest levels of academia.

Juila, what kinds of things did you like doing together when you were growing up? 

Our family has always been really into music, so a lot of what we did growing up involved playing musical instruments, singing, or dancing like fools. At one point, almost every member of our family was involved in a separate choir of some sort, whether it was through church, school, or through my mom’s Taiwanese choir. One of my most vivid memories growing up is our tradition of dancing after dinner. Pretty much every night after the dishes were cleared, we would all go into the music room – a room in our house with a piano, Mariel’s saxophone, a sound system, tons of CDs – and dance our pants off with our dad. We got to know classic songs from Aretha Franklin, the Coasters and Drifters, Nat King Cole, and Willie Nelson this way. It was awesome.


Mariel, what kinds of things do you like doing together now?
As dorky as it sounds, when Julia was still in med school in New York, we actually enjoyed studying together in the library. It was always nice to have each others support during the most stressful weeks of school. I could always count on her to want to grab iced coffees from our favorite coffee shop around the corner, La Colombe, and then walk around Washington Square Park or the streets of Soho. As we’ve grown older, we have naturally assumed the roles of each others best friend and increasingly valued each others opinions and unique perspectives. Whether we are chatting a mile-a-minute at dinner about our family, relationships, friendships or careers, it’s always nice to be able to talk to someone who knows your strengths, but especially your weaknesses. Now that Julia has moved to Boston, we still text or call all the time. I feel assured knowing that we can crash at each each others apartments any weekend that we want. In fact, I have already visited her once for the 4th of July and we had an incredible time walking around the New England Aquarium and eating harbor-side at the most incredible lobster shack. We fully embrace the challenge of discovering the best restaurants in two cities now rather than just one!
Mariel, what made you two decide to live together while going to school?
On the surface, the decision was made for practical reasons. As Manhattan can be ridiculously expensive, in order to afford living comfortably in one of our favorite neighborhoods and only be a 10-20 minute commute to both of our schools, it just made sense to share an apartment. More importantly than that, I think we were both subconsciously dealing with the somewhat scary reality that this was probably the last time we would both have the flexibility to live alone together (it was pretty obvious Julia was going to get engaged within the next year or so). A large part of the appeal was the guarantee of seeing even more of each other and making some special memories together in New York before we inevitably moved to different cities and into the next phases of our “adulthood”.
Julia, how did living together while going to school affect your relationship?
I think that living together during this time really allowed us to become best friends through transitioning into “grown up life” together in New York. While at home, we were best friends because we grew up together and shared so many experiences with our family. During the past year, we became best friends in a different way, because we saw one another move through various stages of our education and careers, continue to enjoy living in Manhattan, learn to carve out the lives we hope to live.

Julia, were you close growing up? Are you closer now or then?
Mariel and I were close growing up; being only two years apart, we relied on one another for company, for friendship, and because we were generally at the same “stage” of life and could thus usually understand what the other person was going through. Having said that, I feel like we’re even closer now. After going to the same university and subsequently moving to Manhattan for graduate school, we have really poignant, shared experiences that have allowed us to watch each other grow and transform. Because it’s been just the two of us from our family in New York, we’ve come to rely on one another to help overcome obstacles. It’s pretty amazing having someone who understands who you are your root and where you come from, and can then apply that perspective to your current predicament. Sometimes I feel like Mariel knows me better than I know myself because of our shared background growing up together. We’ve gone from being great companions to being confidantes and advisers, all rooted in our common background.

Mariel, what is one of your favorite childhood memories together?
Julia and I flew by ourselves to Australia when I was in 5th and she was in 7th grade. Not only were we able to spend invaluable time with relatives whom we rarely saw, but we shared so many unique bonding experiences. I still remember riding a old-fashioned steam train up a hill to a market hidden within the rainforest near Cairns, eating a mystery meat pie that we both agreed had a funky taste (our middle school minds were mortified at the thought that it could be kangaroo meat!), running into the ocean at night at full speed and and quickly being overtaken by the salty waves burning our eyes, and goofily posing for each other in an underwater photo shoot while snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef. 

Julia, what did you and Mariel fight about growing up?
Clothes! We never fought about boys (being two years apart – especially in high school– made that easier to avoid), but our styles are similar enough that we would definitely “borrow” items from one another. I remember well wearing one of Mariel’s shirts to a friend’s birthday one night, only to be discovered by her when looking at photos of the party later on. Ha! Busted. 

Mariel, what’s one thing that used to drive you crazy about Julia when you were growing up? 
It feels silly now, but sometimes I had a hard time dealing with my younger-sister belief that Julia was perfect. Since we are only two years apart, we were easily compared and I often felt like I could not live up to the high expectations and standards that Julia had set before me. But once I entered college and embraced my own unique talents, I gained much more confidence and learned to appreciate our differences. In retrospect, I’m really grateful for having Julia as a role model growing up. She continually inspires me to work that much harder and pushes me to strive to achieve my full potential, both academically and in general as a good person.
Julia, what’s one thing that used to drive you crazy about Mariel when you were growing up?
Being late. Though not always successful, I try really hard to be on time. I remember so well racing down the street to school, upset first thing in the morning because we were going to be late to homeroom. It seems so silly now to get so frazzled about that, but it used to drive me nuts. I do have to say that Mariel is way better now than she used to be. I guess balancing a full college course load and a cappella practice in the “on your own” environment of college really had an effect on her, because she’s often more punctual than I am now.
Mariel, describe Julia in three words. 
Hard-working. Kind. Thoughtful.
Mariel, what’s a quality or skill Julia has that you really admire? 
Julia possesses the ability to accomplish whatever goals she sets for herself. Whether it’s her grades, maintaining a healthy workout routine, or keeping in touch with friends and family, she maintains an unparalleled self-discipline that is truly admirable.
Julia, describe Mariel in three words.
Witty. Fair. Balanced. Humble. I realize that’s four, but I just couldn’t decide!

Julia, what’s a quality or skill Mariel has that you really admire?
Mariel is incredibly fair. She is so careful to view a situation from all perspectives, and will always give someone the benefit of the doubt. I am continually learning this skill from her, and it’s amazing how she withholds judgment in favor of understanding all the facts and feelings. Everyone loves and appreciates Mariel for this trait, and watching this thoughtful approach makes me proud and grateful to be her sister.

Mariel, what is your favorite piece of clothing that Julia owns that you might steal if you get the chance?
Julia has an adorable navy jumpsuit covered with small white anchors that is fun, chic and comfortable. I would definitely ask to borrow it if we still shared closets 😉

Julia, what is your favorite piece of clothing that Mariel owns that you might steal if you get the chance?
Mariel has a black-and-white patterned bomber jacket that I really love. Living in New York, a lot of what we both wear is black, so it goes with everything. It also works for many seasons, since it’s really light and easy to layer. I love it, and think it looks great on her. Little does she know that last weekend, Mariel went out of town, and I wore that jacket all day Saturday! And then placed it nicely back in her closet.


Tell us one way that you two are a lot a like and one thing that is totally different about you two?
Mariel: I would say we both take enjoyment in simple pleasures, especially if they are food-related! We will always be on the hunt for the best bowl of ramen in NYC. Nothing makes us happier than when we get to stuff ourselves at Thanksgiving dinner with our parents and older brother at home in Rochester.
In terms of differences, I think Julia has always been on the more sensitive side, which I have always found commendable. During any conflict, she always takes into account the feelings of others before herself, whereas I tend to to use humor or goofiness to lighten the mood. 
Julia: Mariel and I both have a passion for science, but we’re choosing to do very different things with this interest. I love the logic of the organ systems within the human body, and chose to go into medicine to intertwine this love for science with my joy in interacting with people. Mariel is drawn to the “undiscovered” nature of science, and the ability to continually push the boundaries of knowledge through research. Thus, she’s getting a PhD in neuroscience, with ambitions to become a research professor. While we both feel a love for science, we’ve carved out very different career paths within it to suit our individual personalities.
Mariel, how would you describe Julia’s style?
Elegant, timeless, and minimalist. Her favorite color palettes are definitely blacks and neutrals. Julia’s closet is stocked with some high-quality staple pieces and she manages to combine them in new ways to keep her look versatile and flattering.

Julia, how would you describe Mariel’s style?

Boho, daring, and feminine, all rolled into one. Mariel always knows the current fashion trends and will experiment with more daring cuts, colors, and combinations, especially if a piece has a “boho” vibe to it to fit our neighborhood in the East Village. To complement these more adventurous outfits, though, Mariel always adds feminine touches – a floral kimono wrap with black leggings and wedge boots, girly earrings with a trendy jacket – to represent her inner girly-girl. It totally works, and it’s such an awesome mix.


What is one thing your sister has taught you?
Mariel: It is hard to pick just one! But above all, I would say Julia has taught me the importance of being a strong and independent woman, while still managing to be extremely considerate of other people’s needs and feelings.
Julia: Quiet, internal motivation. Mariel is the perfect example of a diligent student who pursues (and achieves!) her dreams without the need to compare herself to others, put down any of her peers, or involve herself in any competition. We went to a very pre-professional university that could border on competitive at times, but Mariel separated herself from all of the pressure and quietly maintained her individual drive. Her motivation to succeed has always been solely because she wanted to learn and to do her individual best, and she is remarkably adept at preserving this enthusiasm without a single ounce of comparison to her peers.


Thanks Julia and Mariel! See more lovely sisters in our My Sister My Sidekick series. 



Good info. I know a bit more about Julia…..
Full disclosure: I am her future father-in-law!!

Mariel’s dress is from H&M. Her tan crossbody is from an NYC street fair. Julia’s pants are from Topshop, her shirt is from a boutique in Soho and her sandals are Tory Burch.

Hi! Is there a way to get a hold of either of these girls? Had some questions for them! Thank you! Just love this series!

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