A Combined Master's-PhD track - a look from the inside
Interview with a student of Combined Master's-PhD track on the Applied Social Psychology program and at the Doctoral School of Psychology - Asya Muminova.
Asya, you are a real explorer, the first student in the Applied Social Psychology program who entered Combined Master's-PhD track.
How did you find out about this track, and how did you decide to join?
I became interested in science while still in my bachelor's: I discovered the Center for Sociocultural Research, sometimes attended seminars and wrote term papers on the basis of the Center. In April 2020, I started working there as a research intern, and a little later, after entering Master’s program, I learned from my scientific supervisor, Ekaterina Bushina, about the Combined Track. There were many doubts: it was not clear how everything would work and what we would get as a result. But this program promised many possibilities. First of all - the possibility of replacing elective master's courses with PhD ones. I thought that this is a great opportunity not only to get acquainted with PhD studies, but also to relieve myself a bit during my PhD studies, since some courses will already be passed. In addition, I was bribed by the financial support of the track students, which would allow them to carry out research without being distracted by other work. So I decided to apply for this track.
What was the admission process like? What was the most difficult thing when you entered?
Admission to the track took place on a competitive basis. I submitted an application and prepared all the necessary documents - a motivation letter, CV, letters of recommendation and a proposal for research, which I will be engaged in not only in the Master’s but also in the PhD school. There were no exams for my admission, but there was an expert committee that considered the applications of all applicants. The commission needed not only to present a research proposal but also to declare about yourself - who you are, what you would like to study, what you have already done in this area, tell about your strengths.
It seems to me that the most difficult thing for admission was the preparation of a research proposal. In general, students only roughly understand what topic they would like to study, but many students do not have a detailed plan, especially for 5 years, including PhD studies. Naturally, doubts immediately arise in my head: “Do I want to study this topic further?”, “Will it be interesting for me in 3-5 years?”, “What if I want to change the topic?”. Here, I want to tell all interested students that no one will force them to study what they no longer like or are not interested in. The topic and design of the study is subject to change, and there is nothing wrong with that. But if you already have a topic and a rough idea of how you will study it, this will greatly facilitate your life!
What discoveries did you make after starting your studies?
Even before the start of my studies, when I drew up my individual curriculum and included PhD courses in it, I was very worried. I had some kind of fear about them. It felt like subscribing to something very difficult, serious, and time-consuming. After starting my studies, I realized that PhD courses do not differ in their structure from Master's. The same rules and workload. But PhD courses in conjunction with Master's courses can be very useful for scientific work. For example, I included in my Individual plan the courses that I thought were needed to conduct qualitative research. And I did the right thing. Upon completion of these courses, you have the most practice-oriented skills that can and should be applied in your research.
And in addition, it should be said about the autonomy of the students of a Combined track. This is another thing that pleasantly surprised me. The student chooses his own courses, monitors his workload, plans his research, etc.
In your experience, is it possible to study on a Combined track and still find some time for your personal life?
Of course yes! Learning on a Combined Track is no different from learning on a Master's program. The only thing is that you have the opportunity to devote more time to your Master's / PhD research, since the track scholarship allows you not to work anywhere else, but to fully concentrate on your scientific career.
The only thing is that there may be problems with the overlap of Master's and PhD courses. My first year was rather difficult, as my Master's courses overlapped with the PhD school course. Fortunately, the study was online and there was an opportunity to record and listen to lectures after. But if you do not have a time turner, like Hermione's, I suggest taking responsibility into your own hands and before drawing up the individual plan, check the schedule with the Study office or teachers themselves. And in general, be interested in the information you need strongly in advance and on your own, since this is only in your interests.
In addition to mastering disciplines and working on a dissertation, do you have any obligations as a student of a Combined track?
As such, formally, students of the Combined Track have no other obligations. But informally, the Combined Track student is expected to actively publish in peer-reviewed scientific journals. In addition, Master's degree studies should end up with a published or accepted article based on the Master's thesis.
So you are inspired to be more involved in academic life, in comparison with other Master’s students?
Of course! First of all, there is a motivation to participate in conferences: scientific conferences permit access to the community, which can evaluate your research, give feedback on it and, probably, introduce you to colleagues for further cooperation. My first conference, where I performed with a report on my topic (bullying of children from ethnic minorities), was the “International Scientific Conference of Students, Postgraduates and Young Scientists“ Lomonosov-2020 ”. Then my report was recognized as the best report of the section and the best practice-oriented research. After this conference, I realized that I am evaluating an important problem that resonates with my Russian colleagues. But I also tend to participate in foreign scientific events. The last ones are the International Congress of Psychology 2020 and the Cultural Diversity, Migration, and Education Conference in Potsdam. I would like to say that communication with people who work in the same field as you is very important. It helps you to look at your research on the bright side and improve it.
What advice would you give to those who have just entered the Combined Track this year or are going to do it in the future?
I would like to advise those who want to enter the Combined Track not to be afraid and not to hesitate. The track is a great opportunity to start building a scientific career. And the financial support of the Combined Track will allow you not to be torn between work and study, but to fully focus on the latter. Naturally, a lot of questions can arise. I advise, first of all, the students themselves to be more independent and proactive. And if you have any questions, you can always find out all the information of interest from the Study office and the Doctoral School!
Thank you very much! Wish you best of luck with your studies and research!