Institute of Education

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Recent HSE Conference Offers Seminar on Education and Development

On September 16, the Centre for Cultural Sociology and Anthropology of Education (HSE Institute of Education) held a seminar entitled ‘Trajectories and Educational Choice’ that brought together experts to discuss a number of topics related to educational expansion and the relationship between schooling and economic development.

David Bills, Professor at the University of Iowa, researches educational inequality, labor market behavior, and trends in work and employment. After presenting at the conference, Professor Bills later spoke with the HSE news service about his research interests, his recommended reading for future scholars, and his impression of HSE students.

— You gave a report entitled ‘Qualifications, Transitions, and Trust across Societies and Over Time’ at the conference. What are the main findings of the research you presented?

— My major point in that presentation was that people’s lives are becoming less linear and more complicated. Increasingly, people move in and out of schooling, in and out of the labor force, in and out of training, all while managing family and financial commitments. People who study inequality need to analyze these transitions across different social roles.

Also, the educational credentials that people have earned are becoming more and more important as their careers develop. And all of this happens differently in different societies and in different historical periods.

— Education and development have been your focus for quite some time. What is attractive for you as a researcher?

— I think what is interesting here is that many people just assume that putting money into education will lead to economic growth, but actually the relationship is more complicated than that. It depends on how those educational investments are made. Sometimes the smartest thing to do is to expand education, and sometimes other policies should take precedence. Every society needs a well-educated population if it is going to prosper, but there are still decisions to be made about what kind of education to pursue. And of course, there are many important purposes of education other than economic growth – for example, health, civic participation, and artistic expression.

Also, we need to think about how to expand schooling so that everyone benefits, not just those who have traditionally benefitted in the past.

— Is there any magic formula for becoming a qualified researcher? What should people read? What should they do, and not do?

— Anyone who wants a career as a researcher or professor should read Frank Furstenberg’s book ‘Behind the Academic Curtain: How to Find Success and Happiness with a PhD’. It’s great both for people who are just starting out and for people who are moving toward retirement. Glen Firebaugh’s book ‘Seven Rules for Social Research’ is full of good information.  Read the journals in your field. Go to conferences. Write at least something every day. Learn how education works in other countries.  And there is nothing more important than finding an interesting and well-formulated research question.

— How did your visit to Moscow go? What's your overall impression of the students you met and the level of discussion you had at the Institute of Education?

— As I expected, everyone I met was very impressive. People are doing great research in a rigorous and creative way. Just as important, everyone was collegial and eager to discuss ideas.

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News Service