Q&A with genetics and cell biology student Polina Karpushkina

Polina posing with the Butch statue on Stadium Way in Pullman.

Originally from Russia, Polina Karpushkina is only weeks away from graduating from WSU with a degree in genetics and cell biology. While graduate school may be in her future, Polina plans to find a job in the research industry to gain experience and, hopefully, find a research topic that sparks her curiosity. 

Where are you from, and where did you graduate high school?

I come from Olympia, which is also where I graduated high school. My school — Capital High – is tiny compared to WSU, but it is committed to quality education all the same. As such, I was lucky to be enrolled in the IB curriculum. Many of my IB teachers were WSU alums, and realizing I had followed in their footsteps was endearing for me. There is nothing more to add: Go, Cougs!

Five years before I arrived in Olympia, I was finishing high school in Moscow, Russia. In my home country, school lasts only 11 years. Moving to America before completing 11th grade, while inconvenient, also allowed me to skip very stress-inducing graduation exams. Needless to say, I was pretty happy with the bullet dodged!

How has WSU prepared you for your future?

The most significant gift that WSU grants to its students is independence. I highly appreciated the ability and freedom to choose my own academic pathway. From having to plan the coursework for every semester to choosing a place to live, WSU allowed me to take responsibility into my own hands and shape my life the way I want.

But even outside the academic realm, I found many opportunities to grow. Participating in academic research as an undergraduate assistant was vital for developing workplace skills: data management, communication with the team, maintaining a strong work ethic, and many others. Working part-time in a lab offered me a glimpse of the day-to-day responsibilities of full-time research assistants and gave me the confidence to pursue research as a career.

Personal development was another area where WSU helped me immensely. I was able to meet many wonderful people on campus. As I am about to graduate, I am lucky enough to be surrounded by trusted friends and reliable mentors and hold onto the professional connections I made during my four years at WSU. All of these offered me opportunities to grow as a person and inspired my plans for the future, for which I am very grateful.

What’s your favorite place at WSU?

As many introverts do, I always try to find a comfortable and quiet place to hide away and recharge my social battery. It is no surprise that my favorite place on campus is the secluded study corners in the Education Addition building and the Owen Science Library.

It would be a shame not to mention how beautifully designed the WSU campus is. I have always genuinely enjoyed walking to class. And when I have free time, I take a walk to Memorial Park and enjoy the breathtaking view of the wheat fields once I climb the hill.

What’s your favorite course you’ve taken at WSU?

I can’t recall a course from my major that I didn’t find enjoyable or helpful. However, out of all courses, there are two I found exceptional. Incidentally, both made me wonder if I should pursue a minor in biochemistry. I say sparking the desire to challenge oneself is a mark of excellent quality for a course.

The first course I wanted to highlight is online-based MBioS 303 (Introductory Biochemistry). Dr. Ronald Brosemer surprised me with his immaculate teaching style. His lectures are structured like a story: they open with a broad topic and a relevant story, then narrow down to specific examples. Despite the difficulty of biochemistry as a subject, I did not find it hard to learn, and the anecdotes inspired by Dr. Brosemer’s experience made it significantly easier to retain the information.

The second course that continued my exploration of biochemistry was MBioS 454 (Biochemistry Laboratory), with Dr. Michael Rolfsmeier and Mustika Rahmawati as my teaching assistant. It is a very practice-oriented course that sets high standards for students. I appreciated the lack of hand-holding and the many opportunities to tackle research design issues while learning basic biochemistry research techniques. Overall, the course prepared me well for a research career. Completing the course boosted my confidence in data analysis and scientific writing skills.

What do you hope to do when you graduate?

I hope to work in the research industry until I develop a research question that ignites my desire to explore it. Like many students in SMB, I considered pursuing a master’s degree after graduation. However, I also like talking about things at my own pace. Experience and a better understanding of my capabilities come from working. I hope to acquire more insights about myself before returning to academia.

Do you have a job or work in a lab at WSU?

Currently, I have two jobs. I work as a regular employee in the Dining Services, specifically at Southside café. As a freshman, I have always been amazed at high-achieving scholars who found time to work. As the junior year rolled out, I found myself pursuing the same path. While at work, I aim to make people’s days brighter and cheer them up, inspiring them to do their best today. School and work can be hard sometimes, but just like I found inspiration in regular dining hall employees, we can support each other and lift that burden a little.

I also work as an undergraduate research assistant in the Hunt and Hassold Lab. As a part of the team, I aid with analyzing and compiling data collected over a long period. I continue the work of many, many other people. As such, I feel honored to be “standing on the shoulders of the giants” and bringing closure to this massive project. Insofar as my day-to-day responsibilities go, I have to work independently to locate and evaluate pictures of cells; more specifically, I analyze fluorescence signals in cells and use Excel to analyze the collected data. It has been an absolutely worthwhile experience to work with Dr. Hassold and Dr. Hunt and be a part of the research that moves our understanding of reproductive biology forward.

What’s one of your hobbies?

I am fond of learning foreign languages. It has been a part of my life since middle school, and I hope to continue learning about cultures, histories, and worldviews through the lens of language. Besides English and Russian, I speak German (albeit far from fluent). I am also slowly learning Japanese, hoping to communicate more closely with Japanese research teams and my potential colleagues.

What’s a unique fun fact about you?

I would have pursued an art history major if I didn’t get into the Genetics and Cell Biology program. As a person holding an art school diploma, I was naturally invested in continuing this education pathway. Analyzing art and attempting to see the artist’s vision will always remain another hobby of mine, as I continue to feel humbled and amazed at the works of modern artists. This is also why I chose to leave art history as a secondary choice – I wanted to keep enjoying it as a creative outlet rather than a part of my job.