Research leadership: Polina Shcherbakova, PhD

February 21, 2022

Image with caption: Polina Shcherbakova,PhD

Polina Shcherbakova,PhD

This profile is part of a series to highlight the researchers who will be honored at a ceremony on Feb. 24 for UNMC's 2021 Scientist Laureate, Distinguished Scientist, New Investigator and Community Service to Research Award recipients.

Research Leadership Award

The Research Leadership Award is intended to honor scientists previously recognized as Distinguished Scientists who have a longstanding research funding history and also serve as research leaders and mentors on campus.

  • Name: Polina Shcherbakova, PhD
  • Title: Professor, Eppley Institute 
  • Joined UNMC: 2003 
  • Hometown: I was born in Moscow, grew up in Chernogolovka, a small town in the suburbs of Moscow, and lived for 10 years in St. Petersburg before moving to the United States. 

Research focus: Mechanisms of mutation 

Why is research important in the world today? Research has always been and will be important. It is the way to gain knowledge. Progress in most areas, from manufacturing to education to medicine to international relations, and, I dare to say, the world’s sanity relies on people who value knowledge. 

My research will make a difference because: It helps people understand how disease-causing mutations arise in our bodies. Cancer treatment choices are already guided to some extent by the information on the mutation patterns of tumors. Our research helps physicians determine what therapy is more likely to work for a particular patient. We also help determine which people are more likely to get cancer and would benefit from appropriate medical surveillance. A large part of our activities is training younger generations of researchers to ensure the high quality of future science.

The best advice I could give a beginning researcher is: Have your life revolve around a scientific question that you are truly passionate about, not the requirements you need to fulfill or the next career move. Find an environment that values you as a scientist. Connect with others in your field.

The toughest lesson I’ve learned is: I have been fortunate to be surrounded by caring and supportive people throughout my career, including many exceptionally talented colleagues and excellent students. While I am continuously learning how to be a better researcher and a better mentor to my trainees, I cannot say the lessons were particularly tough. 

The best part of my job is: Seeing an unexpected result that you instantly know will change paradigms. 

Three things you may not know about me are: 

  • I enjoy traveling and have visited 34 U.S. states so far. 16 more to go! 
  • I have superior memory for dates. 
  • I am a big fan of the Russian figure skater Anna Shcherbakova, who I am NOT related to.