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'HSE is the Best Choice for Those Who Want to Carry out Research in Education'

Ivan Smirnov graduated from his master’s programme in Paris and hadn’t really considered coming back to Russia. But that was before he learned about the full-time advanced doctoral programme at HSE. The programme has some unique advantages among Russian programmes, which make it comparable to European PhDs.

According to Alexander Sidorkin, Academic Director at the HSE Doctoral School of Education, ‘The doctoral programme in Education is the first of its kind in Russia. We have modelled it on PhD programmes at other leading global universities, and have tried to meet internationally competitive indicators of quality. From the start, the programme was conceived as inter-disciplinary, with a broad scope of research themes. All PhD students are immersed in the real research work of the Institute's research centers. Education is a field that has a unique ability to bring together interdisciplinary perspectives to address specific societal problems.’

As Ivan states, there were three main reasons for choosing the HSE. ‘First, the bursary, at over 60,000 roubles, allows you to cover your expenses, including renting a flat in Moscow, so you can fully focus on carrying out your research. Second, the HSE is a leading university with international ambitions and, most importantly for me, it is developing dynamically. Third, the full-time advanced doctoral programme includes an internship abroad at any university you choose, so I knew I wouldn’t find myself in isolation for three years and would be able to stay competitive on the international academic market’.

The doctoral programme requires (and supports financially) a study visit outside of Russia, as this is an essential part of the HSE doctoral training. ‘The visit helps PhD students to see how their research fits into the international agenda, and how it measures up against international peers. It is extremely important to know what you and your ideas are worth outside the sheltered environment of your home institution. We find that most students gain in confidence, and often bring home with them new research strategies and sometimes even joint publications. In other words, it works very well,’ says Alexander Sidorkin.

Additionally, the laboratory and the academic supervisor are essential in the choice of doctoral programme. Ivan was somewhat wary of returning to the Russian academic environment, but as his academic supervisor, Alexander Sidorkin, had worked in the U.S. for 20 years, they easily found a common language. ‘It was after talking to him that I made my final decision’, said Ivan.

Doctoral students can change the topic of their thesis during the first year of the programme. Some of them know from the very beginning that they want to continue the research started as a master’s student, but most of them change the topic or even come from other fields. In this case, it’s almost impossible to make the right choice of topic from the start.

Ivan’s research is dedicated to reproduction of inequality in the digital era. Instant access to nearly the whole of human knowledge and millions of users in social networks mean that people are no longer limited to their immediate environment and, theoretically, can overcome the vicious circle of reproducing inequality. But it is still unknown whether this takes place in fact, or there is an inverse effect. ‘In order to answer this question, I am collecting unique data from social media about hundreds of thousands of school and university students. This allows me to evaluate the effects of segregation in the virtual space and the role of social networks in overcoming the initial socio-economic status’.

Ivan is interested in general scientific research and its application to social issues and the problems of education. ‘I look at publications in topical journals. My recent internship was very helpful in terms of this. As a result of the internship, along with Professor Stefan Thurner from Section for Science of Complex Systems, Medical University of Vienna, I prepared a paper, which is now under consideration for a journal. Where I will live and what I will do after graduating from the doctoral programme, depends on many factors. One of the options is a post doc position in the U.S. or Europe, and then coming back to Russia and opening a new laboratory doing research at the junction of data science and education’.

Ivan believes that ‘the HSE Institute of Education is a leading research centre in educational studies in Russia. Leading researchers and experts work here. Everything related to education is useful in some way, so this is definitely the best choice for those who want to carry out research in education’.