Polumbaum's research has focused on journalism and media in mainland China. She did her undergraduate work in East Asian studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada and has a master’s from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a doctorate in communication from Stanford University. She’s worked as a newspaper reporter in Vermont, California and Oregon, and also has worked for English-language news organizations in China. She joined the Iowa faculty in 1989. She is an affiliated faculty member in a number of international and interdisciplinary programs and centers at Iowa, including the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies and International Studies. Her most recent publications include the book China Ink: The Changing Face of Chinese Journalism (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), based on interviews with twenty young Chinese journalists.