New Voices: Research Projects and Ideas
In 2015 HSE laboratories and centres chose 24 scholars as post-doctoral fellows in the fields of philosophy, history, data analysis, finance, and cognitive studies. University bulletin HSE Look introduces these researchers as well as the teams with which they are now working.
Laboratory for Philosophical Studies
The Laboratory for Philosophical Studies, led by Prof. Elena Dragalina-Chernaya, is part of HSE Centre for Fundamental Studies and works closely with the School of Philosophy at the Faculty of Humanities. Its research areas include logic, rationality and reasoning, the role of observer in epistemology, ontology of negation, pragmatics, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research approaches.
In 2015/16 Laboratory for Philosophical Studies has recruited one post-doctoral fellow: Fabien (Georges Jacques) Schang, who holds PhD of University Nancy 2 (University of Lorraine, France) and who shared with The HSE Look his research plans and ideas.
The project I’m working on at the Laboratory for Philosophical Studies, entitled “A Formal Theory of Information through Information”, is supervised by Elena Dragalina-Chernaya, and it also resorts to the laboratory project “Rationality in Action: Intentions, Interpretations and Interactions”.
The question is how rationality works in specific circumstances from various epistemological perspectives. My personal project is related to formal philosophy, especially formal semantics, and I use formal tools in order to explain philosophical concepts (e.g. truth-values, agreement and disagreement, contradiction) and solve philosophical problems (e.g. how may disagreement emerge and be managed between speakers assuming different justification criteria). This mainly concerns formal epistemology, the way in which agents can justify their beliefs or have access to truth. In the process they need to use reasoning, and using formal tools to explain this reasoning is what I do in the Laboratory’s project. Now this method can also be applied to other domains, such as political philosophy. In one of my forthcoming papers, “A Formal Semantics of International Relations”, I strive to explain to what extent the famous maxim "enemies of enemies are friends" may fail. We plan to hold an international conference for the next year with one of our French colleagues, focusing on the bounds of philosophical reason.
Only one other person at the department also work on closely related topic – formal pragmatics, so mostly I work on my own towards the achievement of publications through international conferences.
Apart from research, I will also teach two seminars in the upcoming semester; they are aimed primarily at PhD students and at giving them the tools to do research and to write the thesis, to bring closer the different traditions of writing PhDs which exist in Russia and in Western countries. The other two teaching proposals concern social epistemology (seminar “What is to be believed?”) and philosophical logic (seminar “Truth, Truth-values, and the Like”).
One thing which is lacking in curriculum, in my opinion, is a course on critical thinking. It’s a way to be able to scrutinize any information you receive, and it’s a vital skill in the time of information overload. Such discipline can be introduced into Philosophy by explaining the means through which people try to convince others through television, newspapers, or the Internet. It’s very easy to see general fallacies used by various information agents. Such courses are quite widespread in USA and other Western countries. It’s a good way to show to students that logical thinking is not something abstract from reality, that it concerns their daily life. It helps to structure the overwhelming flow of information. Such a course could be useful for any disciplines which deals with discourse – history, philosophy, social sciences, etc.
The International Center for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences
The Center was established in 2010 and does fundamental research in history and sociology of World War II and Holocaust, with a special focus on historical sources related to Jewish life in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union. The Centre is led by Prof. Oleg Budnitskii and is a partner of the United States Holocaust memorial Museum. Its research covers a wide range of topics: commemoration of war memory in contemporary Russia, prison camp system and forced labour, experience of revolution in the Russian regions, history of Russian Jews in the Civil War period, Soviet Visual Arts, food production policy in USSR, etc.
In 2015 the Center has recruited four post-docs as Research Fellows: Seth Bernstein, who holds PhD of University of Toronto (Canada) in History of social movements and political parties, Aaron Hale-Dorrell, who obtained PhD in Russian and East European History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (USA), Natalie Belsky, who holds PhD of University of Chicago (USA) in History, and Angelina Buckley Lucento with PhD of Northwestern University (USA) in Art History, who told The HSE Look about her research at the Center.
I’m writing a book called “Touched Surfaces: the Politics and Aesthetics of Figuration in Soviet Art, 1919-1941”, and it is about the general return to realism in Russian art and the intellectual and political history of the return to Figuration. Other authors have suggested that this return happened because of totalitarian state of the Soviet Union, but I show, relying on previously unstudied archival sources, that it’s not quite the case. There was a general consensus among Russian artists, including avant-garde artists, that in order to communicate in the new mechanical modern age, especially in the context of socialism, there needed to be some kind of figurative representation. There was a need for painting for the masses.
I work a lot in the archives; mostly in Moscow, though I found one of the archives I need in Budapest last year. When I travel outside Moscow for research, I am mostly interested in museums in the regions because often they have extensive collections of things which are rarely seen and great archives. You can find out about the history of the institution, not only the objects. I am planning to visit Kazan in April because there was a substantial avant-guard movement, group TAT-LEF, and I hope to study their archives.
Seth Bernstein and I are teaching a course together called “Culture, War and Society”; it is about Europe and Russia from 1914 until 1953. So basically we are covering both World Wars and the interwar period. There are about 20 students in the class, and it’s a challenging course, but they are on quite an advanced level.
Center for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences
It’s a world-renown Center, and Oleg Budnitskiy is an internationally acclaimed scholar. If you are someone who works on WWII, in any capacity, especially on the war in Russia, you would want to come here. I knew about the Center, and when I saw that they had an opening for Research Fellows, I definitely wanted to apply. There are so many materials available here, so many primary sources – not only about the specific topic you research, but also about the broader context.
Laboratory of Methods for Big Data Analysis
The Laboratory for Methods of Big Data Analysis (LAMBDA), headed by Andrey Ustyuzhanin, focuses on developing methods for building models for different application areas which help solve the data processing tasks. The Laboratory is interested in research collaborations which involve development of algorithms and models for large volumes of data. Currently LAMBDA cooperates with the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), and in 2015/16 it recruited a Senior Research Fellow, Denis Derkach, who holds PhD of Université Paris-Sud XI (France) in Physics of elementary particles. Denis told The HSE Look about his research and Laboratory’s collaborations.
I am a Physicist; I graduated from St. Petersburg State University Physical Faculty, and went on to University of Paris 11 for my PhD in analysis of elementary particles. Now I am focusing more on data analysis but also with the application to particle physics. I work on analyzing the data from Large Hadron Collider at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research). It’s a really grand facility, it is 27 kilometers in circumference and produces a huge amount of data which needs analyzing. My project at HSE is about that.
My colleagues at the laboratory are mostly mathematicians and, naturally, they have a very different perspective on the analysis methods, and often a deeper understanding of the most cutting-edge methods. I formulate the tasks from the standpoint of physics, and they help me find the best approaches and methods for analysis. I must admit that my colleagues’ understanding of data analysis techniques exceeds mine thus creating a big exchange of knowledge in our lab.
Preliminary results look very promising; they are still being reviewed by CERN before we can announce them. I can tell that in some cases we’ve improved the analysis quality by at least 30%.
We work together since April 2015 (lab was created in February 2015). It’s a very interesting experience for me, and there are many data analysis problems we can address further in the sphere of elementary particles. But LAMBDA is not limited to this area of research only. They work on many topics close to the particle physics, such as astrophysics – and I’d be interested in working on that, too.
We are working not only on application of machine learning methods to particle physics but we also develop better methods of working in large collaborations. The articles which CERN publishes are prepared by at least 800 researchers at once (in the smallest collaboration); the other three collaborations comprise over 2000 or even 3000 people each. Consequently, we need to find the best way not only to analyze data but also to organize the work, especially the work on the code of analysis algorithms. So at LAMBDA we look for solutions for both data analysis problems and for collaborative working.
CERN works with many top universities, and there are, of course, ways in which collaborative work is organized. The ideas we develop at LAMBDA on how to organize the code, how to work with it and how to analyze the data help CERN to do it in a more effective way.
We work a lot with Yandex School of data analysis and their department at HSE. LAMBDA’s research is not limited by particle physics, of course, so we gladly look for people who are interested in developing data analysis and machine learning methods in their specific research subject.
We have some ongoing discussions about such collaboration within HSE (we already started a project with the Centre for Cognition & Decision Making on analysis of bioelectrical activity of the human brain). We also work with other universities. LAMBDA is also very interested in involving students, in particular, now we are looking for those who know how to work with encephalograms – it’s also for one of our projects with colleagues outside HSE.
Laboratory of Financial Engineering and Risk Management
The Laboratory of Financial Engineering and Risk Management, headed by Prof. Sergey Smirnov, was founded in 2007 and focuses on developing mathematical models and business procedures for risk management and financial engineering. The Laboratory works with leading professional and financial institutions, such as the Professional Risk Managers’ International Association (PRMIA), European Bond Commission (EFFAS-EBC), China Government Securities Depository Trust and Clearing Company (CGSDTC). The Laboratory has renewed the post-doc contract for another year with Alexander Chigodaev who holds PhD of York University (Toronto, Canada) and shared with The HSE Look his research interests and the specifics of Laboratory’s work.
It is my second year working in the research Laboratory of Financial Engineering and Risk Management. The project I am mostly involved in is on the guaranteed pricing of financial derivative instruments. As the world has experienced several financial crises, even in the recent decade, this project, and other projects in our lab, are very much in demand.
To succeed in this trade requires a strong background in mathematics and programming. Thus, my skills as a theoretical physicist come in handy. Our approach to tackle problems stems from the fundamental principles and is based on rigorous mathematics. Guaranteed pricing of derivatives implies that we ensure that derivatives remain financially secure. It has direct applications for the purposes of financial institutions known as central-counter parties (CCPs) whose job is to monitor deals between market players. Our goal is to produce not just a better methodology, but one which is scientifically sound and complete, for CCPs to calculate marginal requirements. Other venues of research in the laboratory concern the yield curve, credit ratings and models for different financial instruments and risk analysis.
There are many people in the laboratory with different academic backgrounds and seniorities. Everybody helps each other which facilitates a very productive atmosphere. We often exchange ideas in long discussions and enrich each other’s work; and it is quite often the case that the junior members are the ones to propose new ideas.
We have many undergraduate and graduate students working on their term and final projects. Even with students, we encourage them to produce a high level research which would be publishable in international journals. This year I also have a student, possibly more to come. It’s always a challenge to find somebody equipped with strong skills, so we strive to choose the best of the best, and are on the lookout for new candidates.
Laboratory of Interdisciplinary Empirical Studies (HSE Perm)
The Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Empirical Studies (LINES), headed by Vice-Director of HSE Perm Dmitriy Potapov, is a research hub at which carries out interdisciplinary projects. The main research areas of the Laboratory are the study of applied markets and enterprises, the study of public-private interactions and historical studies. This year LINES has recruited two post-doc Research Fellows: Aleksey Buzmakov, who holds PhD of Université de Lorraine (France) in Computer Science, and Sofya Kulikova, who has PhD of Paris Descartes University (France). Sofya shared her research interests and plans with The HSE Look.
I specialize in neuroscience, and this area of research is mostly new for the Perm campus of HSE. My current project is conducted together with the Center for Cognition and Decision Making at the Department of Psychology in Moscow and it is focused on analyzing MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and DTI (Diffusion Tensor Imaging) data from patients with ischemic stroke. The goal is to develop the methods for predicting the rehabilitation success based on the acquired data. The problem is that rehabilitation is a costly process which depends greatly on the remaining inner reserves of the patient: if the brain is capable of restoring motor functions, or speech functions, it makes sense to invest in the rehabilitation. If, otherwise, there are little physical reserves left, the standard rehabilitation will not likely lead to significant improvement. Thus, to make rehabilitation efficient we need a better algorithm for selecting the most appropriate rehabilitation strategy for each individual patient.
We are trying to develop an algorithm to make more reliable predictions about the rehabilitation’s success. The existing algorithms are not very effective, and we want to improve the situation.
I am not working with students this semester but I am planning to give an elective course on Applied Mathematics in the next semester for Bachelor students. Laboratory of Interdisciplinary Empirical Studiesis mostly focused on economics and on history, but I hope that a research group on cognitive studies will also emerge.
For the full text please visit ifaculty.hse.ru.
The HSE Look continues a series of interviews with international postdocs about their research. For the latest issue we’ve talked with Iain Ferguson, Research Fellow at the International Laboratory on World Order Studies and the New Regionalism, Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, about his work and exploration of Moscow and other cities.
International faculty at HSE are involved not only in research and teaching, but some also combine it with active participation in the city’s public discussion spaces. The HSE Look, the university's newsletter, has talked to Jan Surman, Research Fellow at Poletayev Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities (IGITI), about his research interests and Cultures of Critique project.
Natalia Lyskova is spending her 2nd year as a postdoc at HSE Faculty of Physics working in a Joint Department of Space Physics with the Space Research Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences. The HSE Look talked to her about the ongoing research and upcoming plans.
The HSE Look has talked to Anna Blyakhman, Deputy Director of HSE Nizhny Novgorod and Associate Professor at the Faculty of Management, about the educational programmes offered at the campus and its international students.
As the second-oldest HSE campus after Moscow, HSE Nizhny Novgorod has over 2,700 students, over 300 faculty members, and offers 9 BA programmes and 11 MA programmes, as well as several double-degree tracks. In addition to its educational activities and research, the university also serves as a forum for the city’s cultural life and carries out several projects aimed at ensuring the public good. Valery Zusman, Director of HSE campus in Nizhny Novgorod, talked to The HSE Look about the challenges and successes of global outreach projects at HSE Nizhny Novgorod and its proactive approach.
HSE has campuses in four cities, and HSE St. Petersburg opened five years after the main campus, in 1997. It has over 4200 students, over 300 faculty members and 100 researchers who focus on different frontline issues in economics, business, humanities, law and social sciences. Sergey Kadochnikov, Director of HSE in St. Petersburg told The HSE Look about what the university has achieved, about its international and domestic partners as well as its development plans.
As described by one of the original ICEF team members, Oleg Zamkov, ICEF Deputy Director and Academic Head of HSE and University of London Double Degree Programme in Economics, the success of ICEF was in choosing the right moment for the start and finding the right people, both academics and administrators. It would also be unimaginable without the advice and support from London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), especially Richard Layard, who helped design several key elements of the curriculum for double degree programme, Richard Jackmanand Amos Witztum who made a significant contribution to ICEF idea implementation.
Vysokovsky Graduate School of Urbanism at HSE is regularly holding events and activities open to the general public. Deputy Dean Vera Leonova told The HSE Look about the goals of such open projects, benefits of collaborations and future plans of the school.
Christian Fröhlich is Assistant Professor at the School of Sociology who has been at HSE since 2014. He also supervises an English-taught Master’s Programme ‘Comparative Social Research’. Christian Fröhlich has talked to HSE University bulletin, The HSE Look, about programme design, partnerships, and lessons learned from running the programme.
HSE’s Faculty of Law is a partner of the Fulbright Scholar Programme and each year has the opportunity to host a Distinguished Chair in Sustainable Development. David Wirth, a Professor who teaches and supervises research at Boston College Law School, arrived at HSE in this capacity in September 2016. He has shared his research, teaching and collaboration plans for the upcoming academic year at HSE with The HSE Look bulletin.