‘Don’t Be Afraid to Dream and Set New Goals for Yourself’
Every year HSE graduates get accepted to postgraduate schools at the world’s leading universities. Vladislav Semerikov is just now completing his fourth year in the Bachelor’s Programme ‘Economics’, and he has already been accepted to a PhD programme at Pennsylvania State University.
On Choosing HSE
When I was a sophomore in high school I realized that I wanted to study economics. As a student of the Young Manager School at the Higher School of Business at Moscow State University at that time, I was familiar with at least one university firsthand, and at first, I thought I would go there. I don’t remember exactly where I learned about HSE (whether it was from friends or the media), but our university immediately caught my attention. After going to open house events at a few universities, I was convinced that HSE was the best choice for me. I liked HSE’s modern mindset, and I also liked its module system with a 10-point grading scale.
The last choice I had to make was my major—I was choosing between economics or management. After a while I realized that I’m more interested in fundamental knowledge and subjects. I wanted to learn how the economy is structured, how it works and why. By the time I was a junior, I knew for sure that I wanted that apply to the undergraduate programme in Economics.
On the Interesting Aspects of the Programme
I wouldn’t say that my studies were easy (after all, it’s HSE), but they were extremely interesting. I’m a perfectionist in many ways, so I try to do whatever I’m doing as best as I can. This went for my undergraduate studies. I found economic science in general and the subjects I was studying specifically really interesting—and this is half the battle when you’re studying something. It’s always best to delve into something that you actually like.
I began to see my efforts pay off and yield real results. When I didn’t get a high enough score on the Russian Unified State Exam to get a state-funded place at HSE, I started off with a paid place, though at a discounted rate. But I took my studies very seriously, and that helped me eventually earn a place amongst the highest ranked students in my programme.
After my second year, my tuition fees were reduced by 100% and I was transferred to a state-funded place. Then, in my last year, I received a scholarship with an increased stipend
Out of everything we studied, I would highlight macroeconomics in particular. I was drawn by the universality of the issues that this field covers—at first glance, these issues seem abstract, but they in fact affect every member of a society. I realized that it would be most interesting to me to pursue a career in this area.
On the People Who Made the Choice Easy
HSE and the Faculty of Economic Sciences are made up, first and foremost, of people. It is a community of like-minded people, united by a set of shared values, a common outlook, and even, to a certain extent, common goals—when I say this, I have both students and instructors in mind. Over the course of my studies, I met a large number of interesting people. It is thanks to them that I’ll remember my time here not only for the theories I studied but for fun parties on the weekends or outings to various cafes on Shabolovka near campus.
I think that I was especially fortunate in terms of my teachers and mentors at HSE. The list of everyone to whom I would express my sincere appreciation is long: it would include all my professors of mathematical analysis, micro- and macroeconomics, statistics, econometrics and so on. I would like to give special thanks to my academic advisor, Professor Sergey Pekarski. I met him in his Macro-2 course. It was in part thanks to my research and communication with him that I decided to continue my research work and apply to a PhD programme in the USA. As it turns out, it was probably learning about macroeconomics here as well as the macroeconomists at HSE that influenced me most in my career path.
On Work and Research
I worked as a Teaching Assistant for a course on financial accounting, as well as the Macro-1 and Macro-2 courses. My work mainly consisted of marking quizzes or conducting homework consultations. It was a very rewarding experience. When you’re explaining something to someone, you begin to understand it better yourself—there were some things that I only began to understand more fully after trying to explain them to someone else in a more simplified way.
Since my third year I’ve been working as a Research Assistant at the International Laboratory for Macroeconomic Analysis in our faculty. At the lab, I researched the interrelationship between fiscal and monetary policies under conditions of financial repression, and this formed the basis of my undergraduate thesis project. Financial repression is understood as the regulation of financial markets by the state, which has a potentially negative impact on GDP, as well as a country’s prospects for economic development in general.
In today's world, financial repression usually takes the form of government debt being issued at below-market rates. On the one hand, this allows the government to secure additional revenue for financing budgetary expenditures, but on the other hand, it guarantees the persistence of government debt. The aim of my research was to demonstrate how financial repression results from a strategic interrelationship between fiscal and monetary policies. My analysis shows that with different forms of strategic interaction, mechanisms of financial repression can act both as substitutes for one another as well as complements to one another in terms of the possibility of overstating budget revenue.
I’m currently working as an economic analyst in the department of monetary policy at the Central Bank of Russia
The main project that I’m working on right now is developing a large BVAR model for predicting risk premiums for a number of developing countries, as well as their economic growth. This model can be used in conjunction with some other models to predict the development of external conditions for the Russian economy, including economic growth in the largest world economies and a number of other factors. I hope to adapt this project into an academic article later on.
On Getting into Penn State
I decided to apply for a PhD programme about a year ago. I like doing research—you not only get to deepen your knowledge about something but can also make a contribution to the field.
Research is fascinating: you can never be completely sure about the result you will get
Moreover, going to graduate school in the United States provides an opportunity to become a recognized specialist at the international level, which can open a lot of doors, career-wise.
The application process was pretty standard. In September and October, I took the TOEFL and GRE, which I studied for all summer. I took the GRE twice, since I scored lower than I was hoping on the math section the first time around. In late November and December, I opened online accounts on the websites of the various universities I wanted to apply to so that I could submit all the required documents: a personal statement, CV, etc. All in all, the process was pretty straightforward since I had already planned everything in advance in terms of what universities had what deadlines. I applied to ten American universities total.
For those who are planning to apply to grad school abroad in the future, I would advise getting organized and familiarizing yourself with the process as soon as possible. You may not be satisfied with your initial scores on the TOEFL or the GRE, so you will need to give yourself sufficient time to be able to retake them if necessary, so that your final scores can get be submitted to the universities before their admissions deadlines (some deadlines are late November). Your scores on these standardized tests are not the main deciding factor in whether you will get into a university or not, but you still need to get good scores—when you’re applying to a Western graduate school, it kind of sets the tone of your application.
Tips for Future Postgraduate Students
You need to clearly understand why you are applying to a certain programme. Moving to another country is like starting life from scratch.
When choosing the people whom you will ask to write recommendation letters in support of your application, choose carefully. They should be teachers who know you well and who you have personally interacted with, not only in your studies, but in your research or project work as well. Recommendations are extremely important in the application process.
Recommendation letters that speak to your ability to analyze scientific literature independently as a professional and identify new research opportunities are important
Choose the universities that you will apply to wisely. Going to Harvard is almost everyone’s dream, but your chances of getting in are not so great, so it’s not worth limiting your choice to only Ivy League schools. Your list of schools should be pretty diverse. Don’t be afraid of applying to universities that don’t have the absolute highest rankings. They may be a bit lower due to formal criteria, but in terms of the quality of education, they are completely equal.
Thirdly, before starting the application process, I strongly advise that you start an Excel sheet where you record the application deadlines for each university ahead of time. The deadlines are all different, and it is impossible to keep them straight. In the excel sheet, you can also track which materials you have submitted where, and what materials you still need to send. This will help you keep track of what you still need to do and stay on top of all the deadlines and remaining documents you need to prepare.
And last but not least—don’t be afraid to dream and set new goals for yourself. In actuality, anything is possible if you put enough effort into it and do not give up, no matter what your circumstances are.
Vladislav Semerikov is one of the many graduates of the HSE Department of Economic Sciences who will be entering a PhD programme at a leading European or American university this year.
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