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‘Our Students Are More Than Ready for Any Top-rated PhD Programme’

‘Our Students Are More Than Ready for Any Top-rated PhD Programme’

This year, 14 students and graduates of HSE's Faculty of Economics were admitted to PhD programmes at leading universities in the U.S. This is particularly noteworthy because nine of these students are seniors and graduates of HSE’s joint undergraduate programme with the New Economic School (NES) and of HSE’s undergraduate economics programme.

‘In the U.S., you can enter into a PhD programme right out of your undergrad, while in Europe, you typically start your PhD after you get your master’s, which is what our graduates generally do. Graduates of the Economics Faculty had never entered into a post-graduate programme right out of their bachelor’s [before this, there were only such cases at the International College of Economics and Finance (ICEF)]. That’s why this is truly a breakthrough for us, particularly considering the tendency of American universities to give preference to undergraduate students from other American universities, while admitting European students only after their master’s,’ the Dean of the Faculty of Economics, Oleg Zamulin, explains.

He adds that graduates of the Faculty of Economics’ undergraduate programme are fully ready to study at the PhD level.

‘I was part of the post-graduate admissions committee at the University of Michigan, and we had fairly clear guidelines that all applicants entering the PhD programme in economics have to have had at least one course in microeconomics, one course in macroeconomics, and basic math – analysis, linear algebra, probability theory, and statistics. Of course, we’d like for there to be more economics courses, but the amount we offer at HSE is not mandatory at all, so our students are more than ready for any top-rated PhD programme,’ Zamulin adds.

It is also important to explain to students what opportunities they have after getting their PhD, since they can go into more than just academics. They can work in consulting, investment banking, etc. since the competencies that this research programme offers is applicable to any field. ‘We invite all of our own graduates that are in PhD programmes to tell students about their experience, and the faculty’s international division offers support in technical and organisational issues since the post-graduate admissions process for an American universities differs from the process in Russia. At Western universities, things like recommendations are extremely important. And writing recommendations is an entire art for instructors, while for students, the art is in choosing whom to ask. Another important part is the student’s statement of intent. Many see this as a pure formality, but if the student has a poorly written statement of intent, he or she will completely destroy any chance of getting in. This must all be explained – both the fact that this is important, as well as how to do everything correctly,’ Zamulin notes.

The students admitted to American PhD programmes this year largely include undergraduate students in the joint bachelor’s programme between HSE and the New Economic School, which is currently releasing its first graduating class into the world. According to the programme’s Academic Supervisor, Ksenia Panidi, this was partly because the programme is comprised of very strong students; over half have won or placed at the All-Russian Economics Olympiad. In addition, students hear a lot about various PhD programmes, and they know what academic research really is. ‘We try to make is so that students study various sciences and understand that a person’s behaviour can be looked at from more than just an economic point of view. I believe this stimulates students’ interest in understanding the world and studying how the world works. And this is partly why they want to continue their education,’ Panidi comments.


Maria Voronina, a senior in the HSE-NES Undergraduate Programme, is off to Harvard University

I had already been to Harvard two years ago for an internship, and I wanted to return. Now I really like political economics. I’m writing my thesis on this and studying how political activity impacts the redistribution of income in society and how it affects taxation. The U.S. data that I work with show that politicians focus on the median voter and try to match this voter’s preferences.

I think my admissions journey began not in September of this year, but much earlier – reputation is key here. Also important was the fact that I did well academically, devoted a lot of time and attention to my thesis, and communicated a lot with my academic supervisor, NES Professor Maria Petrova.

I wouldn't recommend focusing on a PhD as a way to gain status, like many here in Russia do. Really, a PhD is a lot of work, and if it doesn't provide personal satisfaction, then it will turn into a completely unpleasant endeavour.


Alexander Belyakov, a senior in the HSE-NES Undergraduate Programme, was admitted to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

I got into the finance programme, not the economics programme. This is a more interesting topic for me, as I think finance is closer to real problems, and I get more satisfaction from this field. In a certain sense, it’s harder to get into a PhD programme in finance. There are simply fewer finance programmes than there are economics one, and six or seven is the standard number of people in a class in business school.

As concerns how to get in, I think recommendations are most important; everything else is less critical. My Academic Supervisor Sergei Stepanov wrote me a recommendation. He helped me a lot not only with the recommendation, but with writing my cover letter as well. In the letter, I wrote about what I’m doing in my undergraduate thesis – I research how corporate governance changed during the 2008 crisis. This is currently a rather lively topic, and I think this is one of the reasons why I was admitted into the programme.


Arseny Samsonov, a senior in the HSE-NES Undergraduate Programme, is going to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

I applied and got into the political science programme since I'm more interested in politics than economics; I see more problems there. The University of California has an excellent reputation, but I also really wanted to study where there’s a lot of sunshine. My mood is really affected by this. California also has several professors I’d like to work with, such as Professor Michael Chwe. He researches cooperative games, another interest of mine. I try to use cooperative games in my undergraduate work to describe the behaviour of politicians, voters, rebellion leaders, and opposition leaders. Using formal models, I want to try to understand why in society, amid relatively identical preferences among voters, minority rights are violated in a dictatorship, but not in a democratic society.


Andrei Zubanov, a senior in HSE’s Undergraduate Programme in Economics, is headed to the University of Wisconsin–Madison

I had offers from several universities, but I was drawn to Wisconsin in particular because, first, is it a top-20 school in the U.S. Second, it is also strong in several areas, including economic theory, econometrics, and macroeconomics, so students get a balanced education. In the future, I’d like to have the opportunity to study microeconomic theory, but I understand that this might change since I might find something else I like once I’m in the programme. And third, I ‘bargained’ successfully with Wisconsin. I asked them to increase the size of the stipend, and they met me halfway, which is normal.

For now, I'm focused on an academic career, but anything can happen. This career gives you a lot of freedom though – you can find work in any country around the world and make good money doing what you love. Plus, you can help make the world a better place.


Dmitry Sedov, a senior in the HSE-NES Undergraduate Programme, was admitted to Northwestern University

I'm currently interested in information economics. More specifically, I’m writing my thesis on communication among competitors. I am interested in how economics can be used to analyse simple everyday processes like a conversation between two individuals who compete against one another, and how such simple tasks can be formulated and resolved. Northwestern has specialists who I can talk to about these areas.

As for the admissions process, I just want to warn people applying for next year that it will be a pretty intense process, as documents have to be submitted in the fall and a lot has to be done as concerns boring, bureaucratic work. You have to verify every sentence in your documents and communicate a lot with the people writing your recommendations. Face-to-face communication helps immensely. My Academic Supervisor Sergei Izmalkov, for example, helped me a lot, as did Professor David Parks, who wrote me a recommendation. I met him during an internship at Harvard. He conducts research at the interface of computer science and economics.


Egor Kozlov, a 2013 graduate of HSE’s Undergraduate Programme in Economics, is headed to Northwestern University

I currently study macroeconomics, mostly computational macroeconomics. I decided to apply for the PhD programme at Northwestern because it has a number of scholars in this field that I respect personally. This is also one of the strongest American universities. Plus, there's a large community of Russian students there, and Northwestern isn't far from Wisconsin and Minnesota, so I'll have a lot of good friends nearby, though I don't have any really close friends there yet.

What really helped me was the fact that I had a lot of people around me last year that were doing things to get into PhD programmes. I wanted to at least keep up with them. And yes, you should begin preparing long before I did. It seems like the process is fairly simple, but a lot of energy and time has to go into it.


Egor Malkov, a 2014 graduate of HSE’s Master’s Programme in Economics, was admitted to the University of Minnesota

I got both my bachelor's and my master's at HSE. I've spent the last year teaching right here in the Economics Faculty, I conducted research, and I am now certain that it’s an academic career in particular that I want.

I'm going to the University of Minnesota firstly because it is one of the world’s top five universities for macroeconomics, which is my concentration. Secondly, my best friend studies there. We did our undergrad together at HSE, then he went to NES for his master’s. We parted ways, but now our paths are coming back together. We also have a good example to follow. About 10-12 years ago, two friends, Aleh Tsyvinski and Mikhail Golosov, graduated from the University of Minnesota. Aleh is now a professor at Yale, while Mikhail is a professor at Princeton. Both graduated from Belarusian State University, but Tsyvinski started in the PhD programme at the University of Minnesota a year before Golosov did. We are inspired by their example to a certain degree. I even wrote about this in my statement of purpose.  

Also, I somewhat envy the people who got in as seniors this year. Three years ago, I didn’t even know this was possible. Students are much better informed now, and they see from their peers’ example that any university is a possibility. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors already understand what opportunities exist. I think being informed is already a step towards success.

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of full-time students at Russian universities in 2014 had intentions of studying abroad. A year earlier, the figure was 20%.