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Research Only: How Academic Tourism Went Online and Why Scholars Like It

Research Only: How Academic Tourism Went Online and Why Scholars Like It

© iStock

On October 23 – 24, 2020, the IX International Moscow Finance Conference will take place. The event has been organized jointly by ICEF and the London School of Economics. This year, the list of participants includes the editors of the two biggest journals in economics. Alexei Boulatov, Tenured Professor of HSE University, spoke about how the online format influenced the quality of academic events, what has changed in academic life over the last few months, and the topics that interest researchers today.

Why the Conference Is Not Following the Current Trend

The conference organizing committee, which includes me, ICEF Associate Professor Vladimir Sokolov, and LSE Professor Christian Julliard, hasn’t had any disagreements on this from the very beginning. We don’t believe that the news agenda or global trends can determine the focus of fundamental research. That’s why our conference is not about COVID-19, and one shouldn’t expect it to react to what is happening in the world right now.

Academic thought develops according to its own logic, which does not depend on any trends. That’s why our first aim as we were compiling the conference programme was to invite strong researchers from different areas of financial economics – corporate finance and asset valuation – in empirical and theoretical studies.

Alexei Boulatov
© ICEF

And we have succeeded. This year, our speakers are very interesting and authoritative: they have taken an interest in ICEF as a young and growing academic community. The conference’s transition to online mode has also played a selective role of sorts in terms of participants.

How the Online Format Became a Quality Factor

A conference traditionally includes air travel, introduction to the university, excursions, and lunches. Academic tourism has always been a part of the academic community, even a favourite part for some. Today, conferences are no longer a source of entertainment but are focused exclusively on research instead.

I believe that those who remain academically active are our target audience. Such ‘selection’ has improved the event quality considerably: our participants are outstanding academics for whom interaction with the ICEF academic community has turned out to be most important thing.

Vladimir Sokolov, ICEF Associate Professor, member of the conference organizing committee

Vladimir Sokolov, ICEF Associate Professor, member of the conference organizing committee

Our conference’s reputation has played a major role in our ability to attract such outstanding speakers. Despite its ‘low-key’ character, the ICEF International Conference in Financial Economics is a special event in academia, and many of the papers presented at it are later published in top academic journals.

Over the two days, we’ll have presentations by very influential scholars from USA and Europe, as well as two colleagues from ICEF: Sylvain Carré and Dmitry Makarov. Due to the time difference, we had to reduce the programme so that the conference doesn’t take place at night. Many of our colleagues will take part as discussants, which is also a very important option for gaining feedback and ensuring the success of future papers by our participants.

Unexpectedly enough, we are focusing on banking this year: about 80% of our time will be spent discussing banking-related issues. Academic understanding of the processes is taking place fundamentally, and the consequences of the 2008 crisis are still being actively researched. The phenomenon of the current crisis will be explained by scholars years later. The mechanism of financial institutions’ impact on the real sector is not yet completely understood, and I believe that we’ll shed some light on it at the conference.

The online format, undoubtedly, has its shortcomings: the university as a real place with its unique atmosphere and people who aren’t participating in the conference but who are nevertheless an important part of the research community are literally left off the screen. In the future, we’ll attempt to combine formats, since the social aspect is extremely important: offline events already have a certain culture, traditions, even a code of conduct, which has already become part of the academic environment.

What to Expect from the Conference

Participants will present their most recent research and share the ideas they are working on. It has been a pleasure to notice how ICEF is able to attract some really outstanding people and has built a really strong network in the academic community.

The conference programme includes at least two editors of top academic journals in financial economics: Toni Whited from the Journal of Financial Economics and Itay Goldstein from the Review of Financial Studies. Christopher Hennessy from the Review of Financial Studies recently spoke at ICEF, but unfortunately he won’t make it to this year’s conference.

My research interest is financial market microstructure, and I will be particularly interested in the presentation by Haoxiang Zhu, MIT Sloan School of Management, a young speaker in this field who we have been looking forward to hearing at conference for a few years. Among other things, he is studying high frequency trading – and this topic is highly relevant today.

Along with ICEF researchers Sylvain Carré and Vincent Fardeau, we are looking into this phenomenon: our assumption is that in trading information is not as important as liquidity. Unlike Zhu, we’ve taken the path of analysing high-frequency trading algorithms from the perspective of their optimal operation speed. In addition, I work with financial industry professionals, such as BlackRock: for me, such connections are essential in research. By the way, many of these professionals are former physicists, such as one of my co-authors from Berkeley, so we speak the same language.

How the Lockdown Has Changed the Way Scholars Work

Since all research work is built on communications between co-authors, the last few months have undoubtedly had a negative effect. In addition, it is a challenge for many to live and carry out research in one place, in one environment. Over the long term, these months will have a certain effect, but today, many scholars feel a sense of euphoria because they are able to participate in three conferences in a week. However, nothing can replace human communication with real exchange of energy and emotions.

It’s time to invent new ways to conduct convenient, but safe discussions

Communications and the ways to deal with time have changed in society at large, and not just in the academic community: professional events are held in more effective and user-friendly formats. Time is particularly valuable for researchers, and a new ‘product’ is necessary for their personal interaction. Like everything in the world, even academic conferences are expecting modernization

More about the Conference

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