At the start of this academic year, Yulia Lezhnina took over as Head of the School of Sociology at the Faculty of Social Sciences. HSE University Life spoke with Professor Lezhnina about what this appointment means for her and the course of development she envisions for HSE’s School of Sociology.
— For the last seven years you have worked as Deputy Vice Rector, and now you have moved to the Faculty of Social Sciences as Head of the School of Sociology. Can you comment on what this change means for you?
— My career at HSE began in 2007 with teaching, and since then I have not stopped teaching in the classroom or conducting research. At the same time, I have indeed been doing a lot of administrative work and coordinating university-level projects in recent years. Therefore, I saw the changes that were being instituted at HSE from different angles—from the perspectives of both a teacher and an administrator. HSE, I must say, has never stood still, and now the university is once again at a very important juncture as it transitions to project-based education.
It is absolutely clear to me that an incredible amount of key work is done at the middle level—at the faculty level. Therefore, becoming a school head means being in the thick of things and aligning the strategic goals of the university with the interests of the faculty and students. It is very important and not easy, but at the same time, I find it extremely interesting, since this is where the fine tuning of university life takes place. Perhaps my experience of working at HSE at the level of a university administrator and a teacher at the same time will come in handy here.
— What are the main changes that are in store for the School of Sociology?
— You have to understand that we are talking about a leading sociology hub in the country. Over the course of its existence, the School has already achieved great success: it is a prominent player in the field.
One area in which I think there will be long-term change is in the teaching staff’s research purview, which we intend to widen as well as enhance with increased team collaboration and partnerships that are both internal and external. We have accumulated a wide range of competencies; now we need correspondingly broad task development and ambitious challenges. Large-scale research problems in the social sciences are rarely solved by individual scholars; collaborations (especially interdisciplinary ones) provide much more opportunities for research. The diversity of subfields both at the university and in our Faculty of Social Sciences allow for the collaboration of interdisciplinary teams even within their own faculty structures.
— Which of the already approved university projects will the Department of Sociology be involved in?
— I will not touch on the research agenda here, because the range of interests of my fellow sociologists is extremely wide, as is the pool of university projects dealing with sociology-related issues. But what I want to note separately is the incredible HSE projects related to the collection and accumulation of data, including the Joint Economic and Social Data Archive (EAESD), the Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey (RLMS), and projects of the Centre for Institutional Research (CIR). Despite the exceptional value of the work carried out by HSE University in this area, this activity remains, in my opinion, insufficiently illuminated and visible in the public sphere. These projects represent a strong foundation upon which we can develop a national platform for collecting and depositing social data, which would unite projects at both the national and regional levels. The latter are often simply not visible to the academic community.
At the same time, colleagues from the School of Sociology, as holders of unique competencies in the methodology and methods of data collection, including the most modern ones, will be able to provide methodological support to fellow sociologists, including those from the regions.
— What changes can students of the School expect?
— The University’s new development programme as a whole sets the tone for changes in the academic sphere. There are many of them, but the key one is the turn to project work. Our department has also already begun working to expand opportunities for students to engage in project activities. To this end, we work with various HSE divisions and external partners. We will give students the opportunity to immerse themselves in project work with real clients during their undergraduate studies.
There will be other changes as well. For example, the situation with COVID-19 has necessitated our transition to online instruction, but this has opened up new opportunities for our students—the global educational market has become even more accessible to them. Since teaching online has become the norm over the past six months, it has become easier to invite foreign colleagues to teach at HSE without their having to come to Russia. And we will definitely take advantage of this.
— And what about the teachers? What changes await them?
— I was lucky that the team I came to is the best sociology team in the country. It grew and developed together with HSE University. But life at HSE is quite dynamic, and now we need to integrate ourselves into the changes that are unfolding here: we need to learn how to organize and facilitate student project work, join university-wide research teams, and gain experience working with new educational markets, including ones that have emerged with online learning. At present, my goal is to help my colleagues to do this as seamlessly as possible—as well as effectively.