Lysenko calculates career move

June 09, 2005, vol. 33, no. 4
By David Leidl

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For Natalia Lysenko, winner of the dean of science's convocation medal, her university career move was a calculated handspring from the sports arena to academia.

Born in Siberia, raised in Moscow before moving to Canada four years ago, Lysenko was a competitive gymnast back in Russia. However, she wanted more from life. "I tried to make my life very balanced and I think that's really helped me to succeed in many things I was pursuing, but my heart was always with academics, not with sports."

Today, Lysenko balances recreation - reading historical novels, jogging, cycling and competitive ballroom dancing - with academic ambitions, winning accolades and scholarships along the way.

Lysenko, 21, has (so far) won the prestigious Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) award, the C.D. Nelson memorial scholarship, the privately funded Watson Wyatt scholarship, the equally prestigious U.S.-based John Culber Wooddy scholarship and now - with a grade-point average of 4.173 out of 4.33 - the dean's medal as top undergraduate student in the faculty of science where she earned a bachelor of science degree. Meanwhile she honed her English as a peer tutor at Langara college and a teaching assistant at SFU.

Her original target was UBC and business finance. However, her Langara calculus instructor noted her mathematical agility and suggested SFU and its new actuarial science program. Says Lysenko: "[Actuarial science] requires both finance and mathematical skills, so I learned a little bit more about the profession and made my choice."

Lysenko plans to complete her masters degree at SFU and go on to a PhD, probably in Europe. But not in Russia. There, you're admitted on subjective one-to-one oral exams. "Basically, within half an hour, you have to convince your professor that you know something." She prefers the more objectively comprehensive Canadian system in general and SFU in particular.

"One thing I really like about SFU is the professors' attitude to students. It's very supportive. The whole atmosphere of studying here is very encouraging. That's probably the most important thing. If I want, I can get everything I want from this education system."

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