Up: A Week in a ‘Lift’ With Nobel Laureate
Last week Eric Maskin, Nobel laureate in economics, Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University (USA), Chief Research Fellow at the HSE International Laboratory of Decision Choice and Analysis, participated in the work of the International Advisory Committee for the HSE Development Programme and made a presentation at a conference dedicated to V.M. Polterovich, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. What else did the programme of the prominent researcher’s visit to Moscow contain and what did he manage to do during the week?
— Professor Maskin, The programme of your visit to the HSE seemed very intense. In addition to the work at the IAC - International Advisory Committee for the HSE Development Programme, you had time to read a number of lectures, participated in the conference, met not only the university’s administration, but also the students and staff of the International Laboratory of Decision Choice and Analysis. Please tell us more about your course of lectures.
— The course which I have just started to read and will continue in September, is related to the theory of design of economic mechanisms and decision choice. Together with the students, I shall try to find out how new economic initiatives appear and are developed, how people make certain decisions, and how those decisions are in line with the interests of the society. We are all interested in individual solutions being beneficial for all, aren’t we? This topic is directly related with the work of HSE International Laboratory of Decision Choice and Analysis where I work as a research fellow.
In addition to that, I met the students and staff of the laboratory to talk and give consultation on the topics of their research projects. We discussed prospective areas for further work, issues which could be covered in the research, the literature which needs to work on and possible approaches to the specific themes.
Together with my colleague Fuad Aleskerov, tenured professor at the HSE, we discussed the opportunities and options for a joint project on the study of traffic problems in Moscow. I have visited the Russian capital many times, and, in my view, the transport situation in the city is close to collapse.
I am still not sure that we shall manage to work on these problems and get sufficient financial support for this work, but I am definitely interested in this idea. I hope we shall be able to suggest some effective options for the solution of this complex problem and help Muscovites get rid of traffic jams.
— Recently you met some of the HSE’s young researchers. What was this meeting about?
— I met some colleagues who have entered the HSE's academic staff during the last 6 years. Most of them are economists and sociologists. It was actually something like a question-and-answer session. We discussed various topics: from recommendations on how to make the projects relevant and successful strategies of research to advice on how to get publications in authoritative international journals.
— What are you planning to do in September when you come back to Moscow?
— I think that I shall be able to come twice this autumn. In September I shall spend about 10 days in Moscow. This has already been decided. I hope that I shall also be able to come for the same period of time in October or November but I cannot guarantee this yet. I have to alter my plans constantly. The programme of the autumn visit will be similar to the current one: lectures, consultations, meetings with students and discussions with colleagues and laboratory staff.
— Did you have time to see the city and add some sort of ‘cultural programme’ to your work schedule?
— I have been to Moscow several times and have seen many of the city sights. My first visit to Moscow was in the early 1990s and obviously, my impression then was not the best. Today I am glad to notice many positive changes in the capital’s appearance, and it seems to me that Muscovites have become friendlier.
This time I have decided to get to know musical Moscow, and I’m very grateful to my Russian friends for their help with the choice of programme and tickets. I visited a ballet at the Bolshoi theatre, a classical music concert – Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Rakhmaninov – played by young Russian musicians, and I’m also planning to see an opera, The Barber of Seville.
— At the meeting with Eric Maskin, us young researchers (master’s and aspirantura students) told him what we work on and asked some questions which were interesting for us.
There is a well-known exercise when preparing for a presentation: you have to imagine that you are traveling in a lift with a Nobel laureate and he asks you: “What are you working on now?” You have two or three minutes to answer this question. And you should try to include all the most interesting points in this short answer. To explain what you are doing, why it is worth doing, what results you have achieved. We were in a similar situation. Each of the participants gave a report in two or three phrases. After that we had an opportunity to ask a question on the topic of our study.
Despite the fact that the time for the discussion was very limited, for me this part of the meeting turned out to be very useful. This talk helped me to see my task from a different perspective and uncovered some alternative ways to solve it.
— At the meeting with Professor Eric Maskin, our rector said that after professor L.V. Kantorovich he is the second Nobel laureate working in Russia. We have very big plans and ambitions connected to Professor Maskin agreeing to work at the HSE. And primarily this is related to the opportunities for young researchers to carry out research under the supervision of such a renowned academician.
Newton once said ‘If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants’. And the main thing is that we are starting to work in the area of constructing economic mechanisms. Unfortunately in our country this area of studies is still almost undeveloped. And the fact that this area will start to grow through the effort of several teams at once is very promising.
Valentina Gruzintseva, HSE News Service