Leap of Faith

From Division I Gymnast to Rutgers–Camden Master’s Student

Polina Poliakova came to Rutgers–Camden already owning a lot of Rutgers gear. Although she is a native of Norwich, Great Britain, she spent her undergraduate years at Rutgers–New Brunswick, where she studied psychology and competed on Rutgers’ Division I women’s gymnastics team, receiving multiple accolades; most notably, she was named a 2019 Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association Scholastic All American.

After graduating in 2020, Poliakova brought her focused, competitive spirit south to Rutgers–Camden. “I wanted a change of scenery and wanted to prioritize finding a mentor for my master’s thesis," Poliakova said. "I was fortunate to find Lauren Daniel.” Under Daniel’s guidance, she has been researching child and family sleep hygiene routines and the impact of household chaos on the quality of sleep as the basis for her master’s thesis.

Daniel, an assistant professor of psychology and health sciences with Rutgers–Camden, focuses her research on sleep as a modifiable behavior that can be targeted to improve the health of children and adolescents. Among the projects Daniel is currently working on is the study of how sleep can support cancer and hematopoietic stem cell transplant recovery in pediatric patients at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Poliakova assists in a variety of different ways, from recruiting patients, to conducting study protocol, assisting in quantitative and qualitative analysis, and assisting with manuscript writing.

The opportunities provided to her through her master’s program at Rutgers–Camden have been meaningful and transformative. “Daniel has been incredibly supportive of me, even helping me present research based on my thesis at the American Psychological Association Conference earlier this year in Minneapolis.”

Poliakova also works in the Rutgers–Camden Office of Scholar and Fellowship Advising as a graduate research and advising assistant. She assists the director, Laura Collins, organizing and running fellowship workshops and other programs. One project that is especially important to her is the creation of a searchable database to help international students identify fellowships to support them in their academic and professional journey.

She was motivated to be a part of this project because of her own experience as an international student. “Most of the time, especially as international students, we are told there is no funding available," Poliakova said. "The director and I are working on developing an inclusive and encouraging environment so everyone can find a fellowship to support their professional goals, whether you’re a first-generation student, international student, or in any field of study.”

Poliakova has just completed applying to clinical psychology Ph.D. programs and hopes to work as a pediatric psychologist helping children with chronic illnesses and their families successfully manage the mental strain of their physical condition. She’s confident that the connections and friendships she is making at Rutgers–Camden will serve her now and in the future. “Rutgers–Camden is such a close-knit community. Being able to make personal connections with professors and really get the most out of my academics is a much more effective way of learning for me,” she said. “To have mentors that I can always reach out to, no matter what, has been a really great sense of support throughout my master’s program.”  

Creative Design: Beatris Santos
Photography: Ron Downes Jr.

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