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Regular version of the site

‘I Intend to Establish Myself in Academia’

Fedor Shvets

Fedor Shvets
Photo courtesy of Fedor Shvets

Fedor Shvets came to Russia from Kazakhstan, graduated from the Bachelor’s programme in Sociology and Social Informatics at HSE University in St Petersburg, and is currently studying for his Master’s degree in Population and Development at HSE University in Moscow. In an interview with the HSE News Service, he spoke about his choice of university and programme, and shared his impressions of living and studying in Moscow.

Choosing a University and Enrolment

I first learned about HSE University from my parents when I was in the tenth grade. In turn, they learned about it from my uncle who lives in St Petersburg. He recommended that we take a closer look at the interesting and promising Sociology and Social Informatics programme. That is how HSE University appeared on my short list. I can’t say that admission was too easy or too hard. It was a new experience because I took both entrance exams (Mathematics and English) remotely, but supervised by the proctoring system. I got enough points to get into Sociology and Social Informatics with a 25% discount.

Speaking of the Master’s programme, I first thought about enrolling after studying Demography, which we were taught in the first two modules in the fourth year. I really liked the subject and in December 2021, when I found out about the opportunity to register for the Higher League Olympiad, I also chose demography along with management and sociology. I was lucky enough to get a third-degree diploma, which entitled me to enter two programmes—Demography and Population and Development—without entrance exams.

Studying in Russia in English

The fact that Sociology and Social Informatics is a fully English-language programme was a decisive factor in my choice of bachelor’s programme, as I like learning languages, so my parents and I decided to apply here. Besides, Sociology seemed like the kind of science that would allow me to study quite a few areas in depth, from management to programming languages. I can say that it turned out that way, because during the four years of study we covered a wide range of areas and in the end, I decided to pursue my master’s studies in one of them.

As I mentioned earlier, I was considering two educational programmes for my Master’s degree: Demography and Population and Development. Two factors influenced my final decision. Firstly, as with Sociology and Social Informatics, the Population and Development degree programme is conducted entirely in English and I really wanted to continue my studies in English so as not to lose the language. Secondly, at the beginning of July, a few weeks before the application deadline, I joined an online webinar in which the academic supervisors of the Demography and Population and Development programmes talked about studies and the admission process.

At one point, the Academic Supervisor of the Demography programme said that he recommended a change in educational track when applying for a master’s degree, eg, if you studied sociology at the undergraduate level, you can choose something else for your master’s

This example fit my situation very well, and I decided that I would change from sociology to public administration.

I also found the prospect of studying with international students from non-CIS countries interesting because I had not yet had such an experience. In addition, I studied the list of subjects in Population and Development and I found most of them interesting. I also realised that I would have the opportunity to choose subjects and form my own learning track, which is something I really like about HSE University.

Adapting to Life in Moscow

As I had been studying at HSE University for four years, there was virtually no process of adaptation to the educational process. I knew very well what the ten-point grading system, cumulative grade, elective course, and student teaching quality assessment were. I managed to get into the learning process as quickly as possible and got to know the teachers and my fellow students. At the moment, the educational process is going smoothly, and that is the most important thing to me. We have a good dialogue with each of the teachers, which makes learning more interesting and ensures that any misunderstandings are resolved quite quickly.

I also adapted to life in Moscow without any problems. In eight months of studies, I got metro stations mixed up and went the wrong way only once

I also like the building on Myasnitskaya Street, which I used to see only in friends’ photos and brochures describing educational programmes, but now I study here.

Fedor Shvets
Photo courtesy of Fedor Shvets

I cannot say that any subject or educational aspect is difficult for me. The only discomfort is the online format, which complicates the discussion process, especially if the platform is not equipped with a ‘raise your hand’ function. This creates a situation where, after an instructor’s question, all the students who want to give an answer start talking in chorus and your chances of cutting into the discussion and getting a point for engagement are almost zero. Fortunately, some teachers are very good at dealing with this situation.

Population and Development Programme: Courses and Teachers

A year ago, I could not have imagined that I would call Statistical Analysis the most interesting discipline. In Sociology and Social Informatics, we had a similar subject and it was not easy for me. The situation on the Master’s programme turned out to be completely different, and that is mainly thanks to our teacher Ekaterina Aleksandrova. If everything about statistics had always been explained in such a clear and simple way to me, I would have definitely tied my professional future with this area. I think that all the students in my group have a very good relationship with Dr Aleksandrova, but always maintain the necessary distance between the student and the teacher. She is very good at explaining all the difficult points and uses many examples that make it easy to learn the material.

Statistical Analysis was a compulsory subject in the first semester and an elective one in the second, so when I saw it on the list, I selected it without hesitation

Ιn the fourth module, we also started the course ‘Introduction to Neuroeconomics: How the Brain Makes Decisions’. It takes place entirely online, and in three years of distance learning, I have never been so interested in joining a Zoom conference. Our instructor, Vasily Klucharev, makes the classes as interactive as possible; for example, he runs surveys directly during the lecture, demonstrates various techniques related to how the brain works, shows videos, divides us into groups for discussion, and explains everything in a very interesting way. The three hours just fly by.

I would also like to mention the Demography subject that we had in the first semester. Since I have a particular interest in this area, I found it very exciting to attend classes on demography. I liked the organisational aspect most of all; for example, when we got to the topic of mortality, the lectures devoted on this topic were delivered by Aleksey Shchur, who specialises in mortality and calculating its indicators. This was the case throughout the course and I think it was great.

On the whole, my impressions of the Population and Development study programme are positive. I was not disappointed with any of the subjects or lecturers; moreover, I managed to make friends with some of the lecturers, and one of them, Aleksey Shchur, became my Academic Supervisor.

Some subjects I like so much that I don’t want them to end. In my opinion, this is the main indicator that I have not gone wrong with my choice of educational programme

Finally, I would like to point out that all the teachers have a very good level of English, which is very important for a fully English-speaking programme.

Free Time in Moscow

I try to divide my study and work time in such a way that I have time for something else. I spend most of my free time watching movies or going to sporting events. When I realised that I was going to study in Moscow, I decided that the first thing I’d do would be to visit all the football stadiums. The first two months of autumn were enough for me to do this. However, I prefer volleyball and handball now, and matches of both sports are held in the Dynamo Volleyball Arena. I also have plans to attend some kind of scientific conference as a listener or speaker.

At the moment I have two favourite places in Moscow: the Dynamo Volleyball Arena, where I go to watch matches and enjoy the atmosphere of a sports festival almost every week, and the cinema at the Filion Mall. I love watching films on the big screen and I have been to many cinemas in my life, but this one is the most unusual of all. I discovered it by chance, but it instantly became a favourite. I have never seen such comfortable auditoriums, seats, and waiting areas. As soon as I see news about a premiere I’m interested in, I almost immediately buy a ticket to this cinema. I’ve heard a lot about the beauty of Moscow’s architecture and the variety of museums and cosy parks, so I’ll be sure to visit them when summer comes. As someone who lived in St Petersburg for four years, it will be very interesting to compare a few things. However, I am still more of a homebody, and between going to a club and watching a movie while eating biscuits, I prefer the second option.

Speaking about the city itself, what I like most about Moscow is the technological sophistication and automation of some processes

I pay attention to detail and, for example, I like being able to buy a multi-ride pass on the metro. It is a small thing, but it is much more convenient than buying tokens. This is just one example; there are many such things, and together they make life a lot easier and more comfortable.

Future Plans

I considered building an academic career when applying for a master’s degree, but I did not prioritise that option. After eight months of studying, my plans have changed dramatically. I am in contact with interesting professors, I attend events in the demographer community, work with my supervisor on my master’s thesis, and liaise with our academic supervisor under whom I act as a project manager—all of which solidifies my intentions to gain a foothold in the academic field. In 5–10 years’ time, I see myself as someone who has completed a PhD, is a member of staff in a laboratory, and has published several articles and gained some teaching experience.

Enrolment in the master’s programme in Population and Development is now underway. Russian government and HSE scholarships and tuition fee waivers are available. Visit the programme website to learn more.

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