Polina Kharmats is pursuing a doctorate in political science and has a focused interest on women’s roles in society and the military. Up until recently, she felt quite confident that after graduation, she’d teach at the university level, or would become a full-time researcher. Working as a graduate assistant at UH Libraries Special Collections and receiving the John P. McGovern Library Scholarship, however, opened her eyes to many more options.
As a graduate student working in the Special Collections area at the University of Houston M.D. Anderson Library, she works with collected works on diverse topics surrounding women in politics, society and history, as well as prominent local women’s organizations. This has given her the chance to do plenty of research, and also meet interesting, influential women in the Houston community. She’s spoken with former Houston Mayor Anise Parker as well as Vanessa Gilmore, the youngest federal judge at the time of her appointment, and also the first UH graduate to be appointed to the court. As these women shared their experiences of breaking through barriers, it opened Kharmats’ eyes to other opportunities to use her political science degree in ways that she never knew existed.
“It is such an incredible opportunity that I’d have never experienced otherwise,” Kharmats said. “Meeting these notable, interesting people helps me in both my research and work. I get to talk to them in person to learn the inside story of how government works. I love seeing other women succeed, and it’s inspiring to be allowed to do this.”
Kharmats said that she was initially drawn to apply for the scholarship because she felt it was appropriate to her type of graduate project research work. “But it grew to be so much more than that,” said Kharmats. “It has turned into a wonderful opportunity to meet amazing women who affect our daily lives.”
The graduate assistantship and the John P. McGovern Library Scholarship have given Kharmats a chance to breathe a little easier. “One of the things about grad school is juggling tuition with other obligations while we also pursue our passion. It’s difficult with so many responsibilities. This scholarship and work in the library will let me focus on what really matters. I can follow my passion and not worry about what I’m going to eat tomorrow or where I’ll sleep tonight. It’s also great to have a sense of validation — to see that 'Yes, I really can do this.'”
Kharmats likes that the Special Collections section of the M.D. Anderson Library is located on the second floor and all the way in the back of the building. “It’s like a refuge. When school life is busy, it’s nice to go there and feel the quiet and soothing environment.”