Running a Comparative Empirical Programme in Social Research
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.
— What is the most distinct feature of your Master Programme ‘Comparative Social Research’?
— We are a relatively small graduate programme with a focus on academic research, and there are at least three features which set it apart. The first one concerns the content of the programme; it is focused on comparative social research. The programme is closely related with the Department of Sociology, but it is interdisciplinary in social sciences. Most of our students come from sociology, but some also from political science, history, etc. The courses always provide a comparative perspective as well as the relevant methodology, and this should be a part of the students’ master theses as well, because comparison allows us to approach a cohesive understanding of social reality today.
The second feature which makes us unique is a very strong drive for internationalisation of the education for our students. We have a unique relationship with the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (LCSR), they have the world-wide renown researchers in the lab, such as Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel,and access to the World Value Survey. Eduard Ponarin and Anna Almakaeva from LCSR teach courses at the programme, and we invite laboratory’s guest researchers to give lectures to students and supervise their research projects as well. We are inviting lecturers from outside Russia on our own as well, such as Monika Wohlrab-Sahr (Professor of Cultural Sociology at the University of Leipzig), Alejandro Moreno (Professor of Political Science at Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México), and Tim Reeskeens (Assistant Professor in sociology at Tilburg University).
Thirdly, our programme places a heavy emphasis on practical research; we dedicate a whole semester to an academic internship, either at a Russian institution or abroad. All the courses are taught during the first year, leaving the second one for practical research during the internship, research seminar and the writing of the master thesis per se. At least a third of our students spend their internship abroad, gathering data and doing research for their master thesis.
— What are the research topics the students work on?
— Every work is an empirical study, either quantitative or qualitative. For quantitative research the students often analyze pre-existing data sets, testing different hypotheses. For example, one work examined the students of St. Petersburg campus and how they perceive each other and which clusters they identify in terms of perceived ethnicity. It was a very interesting study in terms of de(markation) and boundary-making between students of different ethnicities. First, it showed us that ethnicity is still very important even for young people in terms of how they categorize the world; second, it was interesting to see what clusters emerge through people’s imaginations and ideas about other ethnicities.
For qualitative research we teach the students how best to use interviews and ethnographic methods. An example of this type of work we had recently is Deconstruction of Normality among Gay Men in Santiago de Chile; it revealed how heterosexual normality is reproduced in the city’s gay community.
— Are there any specific internship opportunities for the students? Do they carry out research mostly in Russia or abroad?
— This very much depends on the individual initiative of each student: some of them have very specific ideas about what they want, but most students are not so active. It is very individual; we sit down with students and discuss her or his research ideas and topics, so as to find a proper place to go to. Typically, several students go to HSE research units for internship, and LCSR is also one of the options. Others go to external organisations and abroad, for example, to Free University of Berlin, University of Tilburg and King’s College.
Students look for funding through different sources: Erasmus Plus scholarships, commission at the Faculty level, scholarships from organisations abroad which support student and research mobility, and the programme provides recommendations and helps to look for specific local opportunities through the academic connections of our faculty members. In the end, it is all very handcrafted and takes a lot of time, but it pays off: students come back after having conducted unique research projects.
— How many international students do you have at the programme?
— We are a very young programme, it is only our third year, and we have several international students, but not as much as we would like to. During the admissions period we review all the portfolios of international students and arrange Skype interviews with the short-listed candidates. In terms of quality we are quite comparable with programmes everywhere in Western universities; but the need to move to Russia for two years plays against us.
In order to make the programme more globally attractive, we are launching a double degree with Free University of Berlin (FUB) in 2018. Hopefully, a chance to get two degrees will increase the appeal of the programme for the best international students. Both the HSE and FUB are interested in the double degree programme, and we believe that it will be a success. The existing partnerships with universities also help to promote the programme: for example, we have an informal exchange for lecturers and internship opportunities for students with University of Tilburg (the Netherlands).
— What advice could you give to those who want to supervise an English-taught programme?
— One of the biggest challenges for all programmes is resources; but while it is difficult to accomplish some things as one programme, cooperation may offer solutions. For example, every programme wants to introduce some unique courses as electives, but it is challenging to offer a wide variety and at the same time to meet the minimum requirement for the number of students. Discussing options for joint courses with other programmes at HSE is a working solution in such cases. As a result, we try to get another programme on board with including the course into the elective part of the curriculum before opening something new.
Again, exploring cooperation opportunities is the key, so do not hesitate to contact both Russian and international colleagues at HSE if you need more lecturers for your English courses. Either they will be interested and available themselves, or they could recommend potential guest researchers from universities abroad.
From HSE Look (English language university bulletin)
Factors Affecting Alcohol Consumption Are Shaped in Childhood
Economists and sociologists who study alcohol consumption patterns often link them to people's living conditions and human capital such as education, work experience, and knowledge. Researchers of the HSE Laboratory for Labour Market Studies and the HSE Laboratory for Studies in Economic Sociology have found that non-cognitive skills developed in childhood and adolescence can have a major effect on the likelihood of alcohol abuse later in life and can diminish the role of education in this respect. The paper has been published in the Journal of Comparative Economics.
Capabilities as an Indicator of Poverty
Using a multidimensional approach, sociologists from HSE University have identified some vulnerable categories of the population that have rarely been the focus of research on poverty. According to their calculations, pensioners and people with disabilities also fall into the ‘poor’ category. The study was published in the Russian Journal of Economics.
People Spend 1/6th of their Lifetime on Enhancing Their Appearance
An international team including HSE researchers has conducted the largest ever cross-cultural study of appearance-enhancing behaviours. They have found that people worldwide spend an average of four hours a day on enhancing their beauty. Caring for one's appearance does not depend on gender, and older people worry as much about looking their best as the young do. The strongest predictor of attractiveness-enhancing behaviours appears to be social media usage. The study findings have been published in Evolution and Human Behaviour.
Alcohol Consumption by Young Russians Drops by Half, Study Says
Sociologist Valeria Kondratenko used data from the Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey-HSE (RLMS-HSE) to demonstrate that the percentage of young Russians aged 14 to 22 who consume alcohol decreased by 2.3 times from 62.1% to 26.9% between 2006 and 2019. This paper also explores the correlation between the alcohol consumption habits of children and those of their parents. A paper with the findings of this study has been published in the Bulletin of RLMS–HSE.
Obesity in Men Associated with Individualism, Study Finds
Researchers of the HSE Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (LCSR), jointly with colleagues from research centres in Germany, Australia and China, examined the relationship between national variations in obesity rates and cultural dimensions. The associations they found were tested empirically through analyses conducted across 51 countries worldwide. Individualism appears to be associated with a higher prevalence of obesity, but only in the male population. The study findings have been published in Social Science & Medicine.
Helping Others Improves the Lives and Psychological Well-being of Russians
HSE Researcher Ekaterina Nastina has found that the more often Russians help others (whether loved ones or strangers), the more satisfied they are with their lives. However, if a person is over 50 years of age or if values of social justice are important to him or her, helping family and friends has no significant influence on his or her psychological well-being. On the other hand, pro-social, altruistic behaviour towards strangers is equally beneficial to people of all ages and beliefs. A total of 757 respondents took part in the study. An article containing the results was published in the Sociological Journal.
Incompatible Alternatives: HSE Researchers on the Ambivalence of Power in the Twenty-first Century Economy
Ambivalence and a combination of contradictory principles are vividly manifested in the actions of government, its individual agents and institutions, as well as the everyday practices of economic subjects and citizens. The participants of the HSE Laboratory for Studies in Economic Sociology seminar discussed the book The Ambivalence of Power in the Twenty-First Century Economy: Cases from Russia and Beyond, recently published in the UK. Prepared by researchers from HSE University and foreign universities, the book focuses on the study of ambivalence in Russia and beyond.
Mathematicians and Practicing Surgeons to Fight Venous Diseases
One million people in Russia suffer from venous diseases. The ‘Intelligent data analysis for healthcare information systems’ Mirror Lab project brings together expertise in mathematics and medicine in order to better diagnose various conditions in phlebology. Project leader Vasilii Gromov talked to The HSE LooK about its achievements and prospects.
An Economics and Engineering Approach to Energy Supply Development in Remote Areas of Russia
Ilya Dolmatov, Director of the HSE Institute of Economics and Utility Regulation, heads a Mirror Lab project titled ‘Models of Energy Infrastructure Development in Russia’s Remote and Isolated Territories’ and implemented together with a university in Irkutsk. Why is energy efficiency a particularly pressing problem in remote territories? How can economics and engineering work together to solve it? Ilya Dolmatov addressed these and other issues in his interview for The HSE LooK.
People Are Reluctant to See Anthropomorphic Robot Assistants
Researchers from HSE University studied the perception of social robots (robots that are able to communicate with people and assist them with various needs) in everyday situations. They studied the perception of such factors as the robots’ appearance, speech, interaction situations, as well as the respondents’ characteristics. The scholars found that androids are more desirable in various situations than humanoids (robots that only vaguely resemble humans).