By Emily Mamula '15
I got the chance to check-in with a member of Olin's Partner
Year and first class, Polina Segalova (previously featured on the blog here).
In 2011, Polina became one of the first
Olin grads to earn her PhD, finishing five years at Stanford, studying
Mechanical Engineering with a focus on medical devices.
Prior to starting at Stanford, Polina says she had little
interest in biology - going so far as to postpone taking Modern Biology at Olin
until it was absolutely necessary. So, she had no clue that she'd end up working
in medical technology when she was applying to grad schools and for
fellowships. In fact, she wrote her essay for a NSF grant application on an
interest completely unrelated to anything biological.
It wasn't until she entered grad school that she became
interested in biological applications for mechanical engineering. Polina was
introduced to the development of medical devices and fell in love, finding that
it was something she really wanted to be involved in. At this stage, she got to
learn biology by studying the cardiovascular system - a lot of it specifically involving fluid
mechanics, which was especially interesting to her - but she did have to play a
lot of catch-up as a result of the later start.
When asked why she decided to pursue a PhD, Polina said she
ended up in grad school partially because she considered Olin professors as her
role models; so getting a PhD was the natural next step. She also claimed her
desire to constantly challenge herself helped to lead her there. When thinking
about life after graduation, she'd ask herself "what's the hardest thing I
could do?" For her, the answer was Stanford's PhD program. As a result, she
says she came out of grad school "stronger than ever." Ultimately, though, she
says she chose grad school because she loves learning and wasn't interested in
any of the jobs available to her at the time. She specifically chose Stanford
because of its environment - the program has a large focus on collaboration and
the department vibe really appealed to her.
I also asked if she had any advice for students considering
grad school, and she was quick to start off by saying that it's always a good
idea to apply, to give yourself as many options as possible. As you're doing
so, find any and every way to get in a door, be patient, have confidence, and
use upperclassmen and alumni for help and guidance. She did, however, caution
that grad school is not for everyone and may not always be the best option
straight out of undergrad. The kind of specialization involved in grad school
can be much more helpful later on in your career, and fresh grads may do better
to try and work in an industry setting to figure out exactly what to pursue in
depth. This way, you'll be more equipped later on and more sure of what exactly
you want to do.
So, what's Polina up to now? She's currently working for Stryker in their Endoscopy
division, developing devices to facilitate minimally invasive surgical
procedures. These products will allow the use of very small incisions to
perform surgeries - saving money, and improving patient outcomes, in the
process. Her specific project is a portfolio of devices that gain access to the
abdominal cavity for surgical procedures called a trocar. They're still in the
development phase, working with an early-stage product, designing, prototyping,
and readying for production.
When asked what she thought her next steps would be, Polina
said she plans to spend at least a couple years gaining experience in taking a
product from concept to launch, and maybe reevaluate her options later on. No
matter what, she doesn't want to get comfortable doing the same things. At some
point, she may consider heading away from R&D and more toward management.
Her number one goal, wherever she ends up, is to be with people she enjoys
My last question for her was if there was anything she
specifically still thought of and missed about Olin. Her first thought was of
some of her old professors. Polina named a few - Jon Stolk,
Storey - that she still thinks of often and considers role models. The main
thing she missed, though, was the "Partner Year spirit," something she claimed
she's constantly chasing.
The last thought she left me with was this: a job is
something you do for money, a career is something you do because you enjoy it,
and a calling is the thing you wake up for. For Polina, the Partner Year was a
calling, and she's looking to find that again.