‘To Be One of the Top Three Nominees Alongside Two Amazing Scholars Was Already Unexpected’
At the 2019 Golden HSE Award Ceremony, which coincided with HSE’s 27th anniversary, Aigul Mavletova, an HSE alumna and Associate Professor of the Faculty of Social Sciences, was awarded the Golden Citation Award. HSE News Service spoke with the recipient of the ‘award within an award’ about why research is more interesting than business.
On Being Nominated and Unexpectedly Receiving the Golden Citation Award
I learned that I had been nominated for the award from Alexander Balyshev, who called me to tell me the news. I then learned who the competition was: my colleague at the Laboratory of Comparative Social Research, Ronald Inglehart, and Ora John Edward Reuter from the Institute for Industrial and Market Studies. To be one of the top three with these two amazing scholars was completely unexpected and strange. This alone is an achievement, I think.
In 2016, the Golden Citation Award was jointly established by HSE University and the Dutch publishing house, Elsevier. The award recognises HSE researchers for publications that are highly cited in the Scopus database. The competition committee also evaluates the scholarly significance of the nominees’ articles and their contributions to the reputation of the university. The Golden Citation Award is awarded for works published within the last six years.
People are still congratulating me on the award; some even tell me that they want to read my article, which is surprising, since it is not at all intended for a wide audience. Strangely enough, by the way, the nominees for the award this year were all from the social sciences.
On the Winning Article and an Unusual Experiment
My article was about online survey methodology. In 2012, I conducted an experiment in which I compared the quality of data provided by online surveys when respondents completed them on a computer versus a mobile device. At that time, people had already begun to use smartphones, but mobile Internet was not yet very developed. It was labourious and very inconvenient to fill out opinion polls on your phone—according to the results of the study, I learned that it took three times as much time as on a computer.
I suggested making an experiment for mobile devices, and we optimized the surveys. At that time, people didn’t use mobile versions of the surveys
On a special online panel (a database of Internet users who agreed to regularly participate in online marketing research – Ed.), where you can find millions of different people, I recruited participants for the experiment. I selected people who used mobile Internet and were willing to take an online survey using their phone, which was not easy since the technology was still new. Then, I randomly assigned participants to a control group (those who would be interviewed on a computer) and an experimental one who would complete the survey on their smartphones. Afterwards I analysed how the use of a device affected the quality of the survey and errors. It took several months to prepare everything and recruit the participants, after which I then processed the data and then wrote the article itself, which also took a long time—it was my first article in English. A year after I completed the experiment, my article was published in the Social Science Computer Review.
Typically, methodological articles like this are cited infrequently, and for the layman, they are insignificant. However, seven years ago, it was not the most typical topic. I had a good sense of the field since I had worked in a company that worked with online surveys in addition to having written a dissertation on this topic. I knew that mobile Internet was growing, but there were no experiments yet.
In 2013, there was a tech boom, and everything changed very quickly. Both the business sector and the academic sphere became interested in online surveys. My article was not ingenious. It was just an experiment that was the first of its kind in this field, and therefore the publication is cited relatively frequently.
On the Different Paths of Business and Academia
I conducted this experiment in 2012 in Germany when I was a postdoc at the University of Bonn. Prior to that, I had been working as an executive director while also teaching at the university at the suggestion of my professor and supervisor Inna Devyatko (Aigul earned her Master’s from the Faculty of Social Sciences in 2007 – Ed.). Upon returning from Germany, I decided to leave business and return to working at HSE University.
I was interested in private sector up to a point, because research work there should always be profit-oriented: you work towards a solution that can be sold and a result that can be immediately put into practice.
I got tired of thinking about the commercial potential of things; I wanted to do research
But I do not think that my departure from business means that I’ve closed the door on it forever. It’s something you can always return to if the desire strikes.
On Her Current Research
I teach in our master’s and doctoral programmes here and work at the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research. Currently, I am participating in several interesting projects. One of the grants for which I am the lead researcher (and on which Inna Devyatko and Mikhail Kosolapov are also working) aims to introduce technological innovations into data collection in a longitudinal household survey, the Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey - HSE (RLMS-HSE). For this study, we are collecting data on the income, expenses, health, education, and nutrition of Russians.
Data is collected in face-to-face interviews. Interviewers fill out a paper questionnaire and go around with a very large pile of papers containing exhaustive questionnaires designed for all adult members of a household, as well as the children, in addition to a general questionnaire for the household as a whole. The study is pretty complex. We are trying to optimize the data collection process by introducing computerized technologies. Therefore, we train our interviewers to work with tablets. This is not an easy task, because our interviewers are mostly women who are in their fifties, sixties, and seventies, and normally do not use these kinds of devices. For two years we have been piloting and comparing how the use of tablets affects the quality of the data collected. In general, our task is to innovate the data collection process and improve the quality of data of RLMS-HSE.
On the Revolution in Sociology and Necessary Skills
In terms of quantitative research, modern sociology is transforming very quickly. There is big data and everyone is discussing it, so a revolution in science is happening right now, and it is a very interesting time for researchers. A modern sociologist has to know a lot and be able to do a lot. Firstly, you need to be able to develop a theoretical framework. A specialist cannot conduct empirical research without it; you can’t understand what to do and how to study the results. Also, a specialist has to be familiar with the methodology of qualitative research and quantitative surveys and be able to collect and analyse non-reactive data.
It is still very important to understand how to get people to voluntarily take surveys, because many people are tired of them and see very serious attacks on polls from different sides. At the same time, people are willing to share everything on the Internet, and sociologists need to know how to collect, process, and analyse all of this information that is available on, say, Twitter, for example. And there is also the non-trivial task of combining data from different sources, which may include surveys, social media, and commercial databases and then drawing conclusions for academic research or offering some kind of marketing solution for a company.
At the same time, I always tell my students that technical skills (collection and analysis) are important for a sociologist, but that content is much more important: they must set the right tasks, look for a problem, and find ways to solve it.
At this point, I don’t think that a sociologist can be replaced by artificial intelligence
A machine will not write a meaningful article and it is difficult for it to analyse data, since it is constantly changing. Still, a sociologist is by no means a technical specialist.
On Entering HSE and the Faculty of Sociology’s First Dean, Alexander Kryshtanovsky
I didn’t have ambitions of becoming a sociologist. I studied at a mathematical school in Kazakhstan while also studying remotely at a school in Novosibirsk—I completed assignments via email and completed my studies there electronically. All of my classmates were very bright; they planned on going to MIPT (the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology), and I hoped to go to Moscow State University. In the end, though, I ended up at the Faculty of Sociology at HSE. I can’t say that I had a strong passion for the area at the time.
One of my teachers was Professor Alexander Kryshtanovsky, the first dean of the Faculty of Sociology. He was an amazing person—we all loved him—but at the same time I was terrified of him! In our second year, I remember we had a large lecture course on data analysis in SPSS. Professor Kryshtanovsky was the only one who had a computer: he explained to a packed auditorium what to do and how to do it, and at home on our own computers we had to reproduce what he had done and write an essay. And he always told us that we should not just press buttons, but really think about what we are doing. I wrote my essay and submitted the assignment. Later, he announced the scores for the whole class, except for a few people, including me, who he asked to come to his office after class.
Shaking with fear, I went to his office, thinking he was going to have me expelled. But when I met with him, he said, ‘Your essay is too good. I wanted to see who you are and whether you wrote it yourself.’ I summarized for him the contents of my essay, and he let me go.
At that time, he still had his own 30-point evaluation system (which he later converted into the universally recognized grade scale we use now). On my essay, he gave me a score of 23 points—which was a lot. He wrote the score in thick red pen with a circle around it and an exclamation mark beside it. The number has been imprinted in my memory ever since.
At last week’s Golden HSE Award Ceremony, the winners of the Silver Nestling Award included two international students: Yunying Pei (China) of the Dual Bachelor’s Programme in Data Science and Business Analytics, and Juan Sota (Spain) of the Master’s Programme in Medieval Studies. HSE News Service spoke to the two students about their courses, speaking Russian, and the reactions their families and friends had when they told them they won the Silver Nestling Award.
On November 27, the HSE University held its 18th annual Golden HSE Award Ceremony in honour of colleagues who have demonstrated excellence in research or have contributed in a meaningful way to the HSE community. The special occasion coincided with the university’s 27th anniversary.
The winners are 16 staff members in seven ‘golden’ categories and 21 students in the ‘Silver Nestling’ category. The winners of the ‘Golden Citation’, which is awarded to the most cited HSE scholar, have also been announced. The awards ceremony was held on November 27, on the HSE's birthday.
The Golden HSE is HSE’s main prize. HSE staff members nominate candidates, so the award provides the perfect opportunity to express our gratitude to colleagues and show appreciation for their work. The winners are also selected by HSE staff - the Jury and the Contest Committee. Here's what you need to do if you want your colleague or student to receive this award.
This year’s Golden HSE awards ceremony took place on December 1 and saw a record number of nominees with 355 contenders for 10 different nomination categories. The winners of each category were determined in two stages. In addition, this year’s event was the second time the Golden Citation award was given out. This is an ‘award within an award’ that is given to the most-cited researcher.
On December 20, 2016, the ZIL Cultural Centre hosted this year’s Golden HSE awards ceremony. This year saw several significant changes to the award rules: new nominations have appeared, many of them were divided into categories for different groups of employees — all to help ensure HSE was able to express its gratitude to a larger number of worthy candidates.
On December 23, 2015, the 15th Golden HSE Award ceremony took place at the Central House of Artists.