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LCSR International Summer School

In late August  2011, the HSE Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (LCSR) carried out its first international summer school in Russia. This was dedicated to statistical methods of analysis in sociology, and particularly, multilevel analysis. Eduard Ponarin, Head of the LCSR and Professor at the Saint-Petersburg branch of the HSE, told us about more about this school.

— Dr. Ponarin, how was the study process at your summer school organized?

— First of all, I’d like to emphasize that all the teaching at our summer school was in English, and this is rather unusual for Russia. The main task of the school was to introduce students to multilevel data analysis. This topic was covered in three original courses which combined theory with practice and allowed students to gain an understanding of the subject in detail, even those who were not previously familiar with the topic. Classes took place in the morning, and in the afternoon the participants could attend lectures delivered by special guests.

— In your view, what is the importance of this school for its participants and organizers?

— For me as an organizer it was important that this was our first serious outcome: the laboratory has been in existence for almost a year, and this summer school was the key event of the first half of this year. When thinking about of participants, it’s important to understand that currently, Russian sociology falls behind the world science in terms of methodological training, the use of software packages and modern statistical methods. Only the attraction of leading international researchers will allow us to bridge this gap.

About 40 people took part in our school. They were master’s and postgraduate students as well as researchers from Russia, Ukraine, Belorussia, Israel, Germany and the USA. I think that it was the opportunity for contact with sociologists from different Russian regions and the CIS countries that attracted the attention of foreign students. Today we are trying to create a real research network, and establish academic cooperation with international centers in Central Asia and the Caucasus. And I believe that by all of us working together (including researchers from the West) we shall be able to achieve good results in the study of this huge territory.

— Does this mean that experienced researchers have come to study at your school?

Yes, exactly. Of course we are interested in partnership with researchers from all over the world, but we also attract active students who are interested in studying the topics of our laboratory, such as various aspects of social wealth and health and cultural diversity (national and religious problems as well as migration issues). Almost every student of the summer school has a project on comparative studies (many of them are already associated staff of our laboratory), and in the near future they are planning to put the knowledge they received at the school into practice. Many of them brought their projects and used their data during the classes.

— Who taught at the school?

— Prof. Hermann Duelmer from the University of Cologne delivered a two-week course on Multilevel Analysis with HML. Hermann is a real catch for our school, his explanations ‘for beginners’ were interesting even for me. Another lecturer, also from Germany, Christian Welzel from the University of Luneburg, introduced the audience to the principles of working with databases from the World Values Survey which was extremely useful, since many studies of our laboratory use this data. I also worked as a lecturer at this summer school; I offered a course of classes on work with R – a powerful analytical software tool. In addition to this, single lectures were given by Ronald Inglehart, Academic Supervisor of the LCSR, Jaap Dronkers (University of Maastricht, the Netherlands) and Mikhail Chernysh from the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology. Their presentations were dedicated to the methodological aspects of intercountry studies, including those using multilevel models.

— Did the school meet your expectations?

— Definitely. Summer school is a very productive form of education. The classes started at 9 a.m., but even in the late evening you could see school students discussing ideas among themselves or with professors. Many consultations were carried out, and many of them were rather spontaneous than planned. A free exchange of experience and a live academic environment – that is what such schools really are for. Open discussion, and even simply talking about your study or hypotheses with like-minded people is a great tool for academic development. And I believe that at our school we managed to create a comfortable atmosphere where students and the teachers were able to communicate as equals and exchange contact details for future communication.

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