“This is a great way to enhance your education even without prior biology background from anyplace in the world and at your own pace.” – Polina Melik-Simonian, online microbiology master’s program graduate
From her home in Moscow, Polina Melik-Simonian runs the hematology business unit in the marketing department of a Japanese equipment manufacturer with a regional headquarters in Germany. Both her work and family ties keep her travelling regularly. While juggling a packed schedule that also included raising a young daughter — one of three children — Melik-Simonian earned her online master’s degree in microbiology and cell science from UF. Now a graduate enjoying a well-earned lighter schedule, she graciously took time to discuss how she tackled coursework as an on-the-go professional and parent and why she believes she received an immediate career boost from her UF degree.
A Need for Structured, Up-to-Date Microbiology Training
“I was working as a strategic planning director at an advertising company,” Melik-Simonian recalled. “At a certain point I realized that I need much more knowledge of medicine because I was absolutely not happy with the level of education that an average M.D. had around me. There’s so much going on in this field every year that sometimes the person who was trained years ago now might know less about a certain procedure than I if I had just Googled [it]. I started reading a lot of medical literature and then realized that I want more structured, basic training. Also, when I was a youth, I was thinking of going into biology and microbiology in particular, and in a way, I’ve regretted [not doing so]. So that’s how it started.”
Quickly Finding the Program That Suited Her Schedule
The desire for a deeper understanding of contemporary microbiology led Melik-Simonian to a fortuitous Google search. She had never heard of the University of Florida, but once our online master’s degree program came up in her search results, she stopped looking. “I was looking at different ones, but somehow it was [UF’s] that really found me. Struck me. I did not seriously look into others. I just looked into [UF’s] courses and thought that it would be something that I really want to study.”
“Obviously, I needed a 100% online program because I was working full-time and living abroad,” Melik-Simonian explained. Though she completed most of her microbiology master’s degree from Moscow, she needed a flexible learning arrangement. “I was traveling a lot around Russia and abroad. My family lives in Uganda. I was sometimes in Uganda, sometimes in Kazakhstan on a business trip or in Germany at the regional headquarters of my company, and even taking exams from there, because sometimes business trips and exams coincided.” At home, she had to strategize her study time as well: “[When my youngest daughter] was going to sleep, I was lying near her and patting her and listening to my lectures. From something like six months old, she was listening to all the lectures that I was,” she added with a laugh.
A Job Offer From Her “Dream Company” Early in the Program
“Once enrolled into the UF microbiology program, I started looking for a job in medical devices or pharma-related disciplines. And eventually I found it. I believe that had I not had UF enrollment as a confirmation of my strong intent, I would not have gotten it. [My position] was at first market researcher, and in a year, I got promoted to the head of the hematology business unit. [My UF degree] first helped me to find a dream company, and then I was promoted to my dream job.“
Courses Exceeded Expectations
What was Melik-Simonian’s experience with the courses that originally attracted her to our program? “I cannot say that there was a course which I did not enjoy,” she explained, though she clearly had some favorites. “Immunology was absolutely the best, the most interesting and the most needed for my present work. The professor was just absolutely great. He’s fun. He’s very smart and very to the point. The course was interesting, not only because of the program, but also because of the professor. Biochemistry, although the hardest, really prepared me for the courses to come and I learned a lot. Bioinformatics, although second hardest, also proved interesting and opened a whole new field.”
Connecting With Faculty and Classmates From Around the Globe
Melik-Simonian successfully navigated some considerable time differences when seeking assistance from program faculty. “The office hours were like at 4:00 p.m. or 5:00 p.m. [Eastern Standard Time]. So, I was attending at 1:00 in the morning or 2:00 in the morning at my place. Bioinformatics was a very tough course, and I needed every second of whatever insight the teacher could give, or the assistant could give, but especially the teacher, who was also very wonderful.”
Melik-Simonian revealed she was seeking more than help when she participated in virtual office hours, however: “I wanted to somehow mingle and see some of my fellow students. You know, I was not for a very long time at the university and wanted just some communication. There were usually about six to eight [students] in the office during their office hours and they were exactly the same people with very few differences. So, we got to know each other quite well by the end of the course. It was fun.”
Think you don’t have time to earn a master’s degree in microbiology? Polina Melik-Simonian has shown that you can earn a UF degree online from anywhere in the world — whether you live overseas or travel frequently — while managing your professional and personal commitments. Get details on our program and application process now.