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'Economics Is a Field Where Mathematics and the Real World Unite'

'Economics Is a Field Where Mathematics and the Real World Unite'

This year, HSE student Anna Denisenko graduates from her undergraduate economics programme, after which she’ll continue her education in a PhD programme at New York University, where she has already been accepted. The HSE News Service met with Anna to talk about her time at HSE, as well as what she had to do to get into the programme at NYU and what her expectations are of the university.

How Mathematicians Decide on Economics

In high school I got into a good school that focused on mathematics, and we had a fantastic supervisor and a wonderful team of instructors. I liked math and solving problems, and I also liked participating in Olympiads. The best part was that I was good at it. My classmates and I would argue about what’s better – the MSU Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics, the HSE Faculty of Mathematics, the MSU Faculty of Computational Mathematics and Cybernetics, or the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. Nontechnical majors did not exist for us. At the beginning of 11th grade, I got into an economics lecture series offered by the Higher School of Economics at the Polytechnic Museum, and for me economics became a field where mathematics and the real world unite.

I decided between the economics faculties of MSU and HSE, but I was more interested in HSE’s programme. My opinion is biased, though – I think HSE students have more opportunities for self-fulfilment. There are always conferences and academic seminars going on, and each year HSE signs new agreements on exchange programmes with universities all around the world. There are laboratories where junior researchers can work, and HSE hosts international professors. You can and should take classes in other faculties and even at other universities.

Why It’s Good to Audit Courses

I came to the economics faculty with practically no knowledge of economics. I did have a strong mathematics background that was more than enough for first-year maths courses. Linear algebra and mathematical analysis did not give me problems like it did typical students of the economics faculty. And during my second year, I began doing research. Around 40 students were selected based on their first-year academic performance.

It is thought that the programme is more difficult for students participating in research than students who are in the basic programme. This is partially true. The exams are the same for everyone, but for those who are part of the research programme, exam prep is more intense and instructors’ expectations are higher. But on the other hand, we could have been told about joint distribution while sitting in a courtyard.

Starting their second year, students also have electives alongside required subjects. As I already mentioned, you don’t have to take classes in your own faculty. I took a class in topology offered by the HSE/NES Programme in Economics, and I audited a course in mathematical analysis at the Independent University of Moscow. There’s a wide selection, and I think every student is able to find something he or she finds interesting.

How Russian Economics Is Becoming Western Political Science

At the start of my second year, after my class in discrete mathematics, I went to work as a research intern in the International Laboratory of Decision Choice and Analysis. I worked together with Vladimir Volsky and Fuad Alexander on an article that provides an overview of different decision functions. I also took a lab seminar series that focused on discussing different participants’ work. I like hearing other people’s ideas, and I like learning about the unfamiliar and incomprehensible.

Now I’m taking a research seminar on political economics. Speakers talk about different work that is connected to political science in one way or another. We recently discussed a study on the impact of the mass media on a population’s decision-making. In political science, there are a lot of different topics to think about and opportunities for research.

I started working as a research assistant during my second year, first in mathematical analysis, and then in probability theory. Now I focus on game theory in the political science department. I also won this year’s Student Research Paper Competition in economics. But really, what we still consider economics – game theory and decision theory – are considered political science at a lot of universities. Despite the fact that my work won a competition in economics, it is actually considered political science in the U.S. This is why I applied to NYU’s political science department.

How to Choose the Right PhD Programme

Back when I was in school, I often went to maths camps and assisted with Olympiads. I liked talking and explaining things. After getting my bachelor’s, I wanted to go into a master’s programme at the New Economic School, and then either teach or go on into a PhD programme here or abroad. After my first year of undergrad, I took part in a month-long summer school in Texas. There were people there from the joint bachelor’s programme and from the economics faculty. We talked a lot about getting a PhD, and what I before thought was completely unrealistic ended up being achievable. We even solved GMAT problems together (though you have to take the GRE General Test for PhD programmes).

I applied for 11 programmes in total – 10 PhD programmes in the U.S. and one MPhil programme in Europe at the university I did an exchange programme at.

I put all of the universities into a table with different ratings (ideas.repec.org, topuniversities.com, and usnews.com), and I also included subjective criteria that were important for me (the size of the city, easiest places to get around without a car, and the length of the flight from Russia). Overall, NYU was at the top of my list. I was always afraid of overestimating myself, and I applied to NYU thinking I was wasting my money on the application fee.

The NYU programme is very flexible. There are a few required mathematics courses, but if they are too easy it isn’t hard to jump to the next level. NYU also lets its students write papers in lieu of exams. By the third year, students have enough work for a dissertation. It is also easy for the university to pay for international conferences, and it often pays its students additional grants. One of the best things is the fact that grants do not depend on whether you teach. At a lot of universities, students only receive money if they teach seminars or work for professors as research assistants. At NYU, you are paid extra for being a research or teaching assistant.

Putting in a Good Word

I was ecstatic to receive an offer from NYU, and I couldn’t believe it for a while. I think that I got in mostly thanks to my recommendations, and it’s worth paying special attention to them. If the person recommending you is famous abroad, it will be easier for the selection committee to make a decision. But a genuine recommendation from a lesser-known professor is still better than more formal words from a famous one.

The NYU department I’m in has probably six professors that I’d like to work with. Unfortunately, the professor I wanted to work with most is spending next year at a different university. I have a lot of ideas for future research, and I think I’ll have help deciding which ideas are worthwhile.

In just five or six years, I’ll be looking for work at a good university. I’m going to teach and publish, and I don’t think I’ll have any problems finding work.

See also:

‘Green’ Taxes: An Analysis of Climate Policy Effectiveness

It is believed that carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere are mainly regulated by ‘direct’ economic instruments - the carbon tax and the Emissions Trading System (ETS). However, a comparative analysis has shown that ‘indirect’ instruments, such as excise taxes on motor fuel and other energy taxes, did not yield any lesser impact than their ‘direct’ counterparts, and, over time, were even more effective. This is the conclusion drawn by HSE researcher Ilya Stepanov in his article, ‘Taxes in the Energy Sector and Their Role in Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions’.

‘Math is Beautiful’

Anna Kozhina, a Research Assistant at HSE’s international Laboratory of Stochastic Analysis and its Applications, earned her PhD at Heidelberg University in Germany with highest distinction and earned an academic degree of the first category  from HSE’s new Dissertation Committee. This year Anna’s dissertation was awarded the Wilma-Moser prize, which recognizes the best work among female graduate students in the natural sciences. In an interview with HSE News Service, Anna discussed what made her fall in love with mathematics and how science keeps her on her toes.

Majority of CIS Economies Halt Growth

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The Keepers of the Ruble

Post-Soviet life and the economic ups and downs of recent years have changed the attitude of Russians towards saving. Now, it is not the less fortunate who save, but the more intelligent, according to Elena Berdysheva and Regina Romanova. Or, more to the point, it’s the more intelligent women: domestic finances are usually dealt with by females. At HSE’s recent XIX April International Academic Conference, researchers explained how Russians adjusted and optimized family budgets following the crisis of 2014-2017 and how this relates to gender issues.

Marx’s Capital Was a Work in Progress

The notion that Karl Marx's works have been studied inside and out is fundamentally incorrect. The huge body of his manuscripts has still not been completely processed, and his seminal work, Capital, was only recently published with the final edits of the author. The 19th April Conference at the Higher School of Economics included the section ‘Methodology of Economic Science’ which was devoted to the work of the German philosopher and political scientist. Independent researcher and professor from Berlin, Thomas Kuczynski, gave a presentation at the conference which pointed out numerous aspects of Marx’s continuous rethinking of allegedly fixed truths.

Foreign Investments are Crucial for Positive Return on Exports

Experts at HSE have shown that the foreign direct investment is an important and necessary determinant for positive return on exports. Such companies consequently encounter a higher level of competition in terms of quality and intensity. Research results have been published in the Baltic Journal of Management.

What Mitigates the Consequences of Recession for Companies?

HSE experts demonstrated that companies with foreign participation have an easier time overcoming the consequences of economic recessions. The results of the study were presented in the paper ‘Lean against the wind: The moderation effect of foreign investments during the economic recession in Russia’ published by the Journal of Economics and Business.

'HSE Was Able to Become a Success in a Short Period of Time'

Oleg Ananyin, Tenured Professor, Professor in the Department of Theoretical Economics (Faculty of Economic Sciences), Academic Supervisor of the ‘Politics. Economics. Philosophy’ master’s programme, Chairman of the Education and Teaching Methods Council, Member of the HSE Academic Council, spoke on his academic interests, as well as shared his thoughts on the development of HSE and Russian economic community.

ICEF Student Presents Report on ‘The Economy for Future Development’ to the Russian President

HSE ICEF student Alexander Lee delivered a presentation titled ‘The Economy for Future Development’ during the session ‘Youth 2030. The image of the future’ at the XIX World Festival of Youth and Students, which took place in Russia from October 14-22. The presentation was based on creative work and discussions held over the course of one week among a group of international students led by experts from ISSEK and Yuri Simachev, Director for Economic Policy. Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, took part in the event.

Student Work Experience Helps Graduates Win Higher Salaries

Sergey Roshchin, HSE Vice Rector, discussed the main trends in graduate employment at a panel discussion titled ‘University-Graduate-Business: How to Build Constructive Partnership’ organized by the Ural Federal University and Sistema Charitable Foundation as part of the XIX World Festival of Youth and Students in Sochi. The participants discussed the changes required in education due to growing competition and the approaches that universities and employers take to pooling efforts and creating a joint vision.