Young scholars in our professional team
Last year, the team of the teacher of our master's program was replenished with a young teacher Emil Kamalov, who taught one of the most important subjects for our students, namely "Methodology for Sociopolitical Research in East Asia". We decided to ask Emil Kamalov about his first year at the HSE and about his professional plans for the future.
Could you please introduce yourself: what is your academic background, scientific interests?
I am Emil Kamalov. Currently, I am a research assistant at the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (LCSR) at Higher School of Economics, and a PhD student at European University at Saint Petersburg. I teach statistics in both Universities, including Master Programme “Business and Politics in Modern Asia”. Before starting to work at the HSE, I got Candidate of Philosophical Sciences (a Russian version of PhD) and MA in Sociology. Speaking generally, I study subjective wellbeing and its political consequences.
On our program you teach the course dedicated to the methodology. Why do you think it is important for students to know the methods of research?
I believe, it is very useful or even necessary for those students, who plan to use evidence-based approach or deal with research results in their future careers. Say, an enterprise, a think-tank or an NGO you are working for faces a challenge. How can you deal with that? The thing that all agencies with limited resources are seeking for is efficiency. To understand which way of dealing with a challenge is the most efficient you need to compare different scenarios and their possible outcomes. For that purpose, you need to apply statistics to summarize results of your own experiments, or use statistics done and published by others (in academic and business journals or think-tank papers). The evidence-based approach is much ingrained in our brains – while avoiding unpleasant and approaching pleasant stimuluses, we are behaving as naive statisticians. In this sense, to learn quantitative methods means developing your already existing analytical skills. Besides, on our Master’s program students are taught programming as well. Taking together, these skills are quite universal and might be useful for almost everyone who work with numbers.
As someone, who focuses on quantitative methods of research, can you describe them briefly, and speak on their positives and negatives? In what types of research, they can and cannot be applied?
Quantitative methods, as one can guess from the very name, imply quantification of reality. Different objects and things, we believe, can be described in numbers and figures: height in centimeters or meters, efficiency in profits made by company, emotional wellbeing in answers whether one is happy or not. Furthermore, it is implied that numbers of the same variable are comparable: 150 cm is higher than 125 cm, 250 dollars are more than 180, and answer ‘I am happy’ implies more happiness than answer ‘I am not happy at all’. With these and other assumptions, we are able to search for connections between different aspects of reality: how money can make us happier or how height might be related to income. Roughly speaking, as long as you have sufficient objects to quantify you can apply quantitative methods.
But like it was in one song, numbers and figures do not always speak as loud as heart. Quantitative methods have their limitations. Imagine you have a friend with depression. Here are quantitative methods to help: we have an efficient medicine and correct psychotherapy. As long as your friend is similar to other human beings, we can utilize evidence of thousands experiments and studies conducted on other people. Yet, your friend is a unique person with unique biography, thus, in order to make therapy more efficient it is necessary to understand him or her as an individual. Quantitative methods hardly could evoke an understanding of unique and idiosyncratic phenomenon; for that purpose, one, probably, might use qualitative approaches. There are still debates about quantitative and qualitative methods in social sciences, and I am by no means the best person for giving definitive answers in this topic.
2019-2020 academic year was your first year on our Program, what is your impression? What do you think about the students of our Program?
I liked it very much! I felt happy when students expressed their interest in statistics. Some classes were not that interesting for students as I would like them to be, but, generally, we went through that rather good. Talking about students. I have a good impression about them. There were certain difficulties with statistics and programming owing to the fact that most of students had major in humanities, but each new day of teaching, I saw how hard most of them tried to overcome these difficulties, and it was a pleasure to help them in these endeavors.
How can the students apply the knowledge you gave in their studies and their future work?
It highly depends in their goals and careers. Hard to predict. However, if they work with number and complex systems there might be many ways to utilize quantitative methods in one way or another.
What qualities, in your opinion, should a modern student have?
Never thought about that, that is why it is difficult to answer. I think, motivation and strong belief that hard work can help to achieve any goal are necessary. A bit of googling skills might be useful too, because almost everything is on the Internet.
As far as I know, you have participated in an international exchange program with a university in Finland. In your opinion is it important for students to partake in those kinds of programs? What can they gain from the exchange?
Yes, I did an exchange at Jyvaskyla University. It was wonderful! Good and special time. No doubts, students can only benefit from that. What will students get from it, however, depends from their personal attitudes and goals. First of all, it is a good opportunity to find new friends. People who are waiting for you there are also exchange students. Because of that, they are very open to strangers and, hence, to your strangeness. It is good opportunity to make close ties with people abroad. Secondly, it is a new academic environment which differs from one we have at the HSE: even more freedom and inclusiveness. Thirdly, interesting subjects that you cannot study at the HSE. Last, but not least, English skills. My English is still far from being the best, but it is much-much better now than it was before the exchange. For me the exchange period was more about socialization and personal development rather than academic achievements, but, I guess, as I said before, everything depends on personal goals and attitudes.
As a researcher in sociology, how would you describe the development of the sociological research in Russia? Is it relevant? Is it in demand?
I think, the HSE’s Department of Sociology does good work in developing social sciences in Russia. I am not sure if I am right, but it seems that the level of quantitative social sciences at the HSE - Saint Petersburg is among the highest in Russia. Social science is relevant without a doubt, because Russia experiencing many difficulties in different field from migration to politics. There are certain spheres, such as academia, marketing and data analysis, where sociologists can find their place under the sun. Nonetheless, I want to believe that demand for social researchers will be higher than it is now.
What are your professional plans for the future?
Difficult to talk precisely about plans, but I can tell about wishes. Certainly, I wish to grow as a teacher in following years. I have several research projects which I wish to complete. And I am looking for opportunities to study in the West again, but this time as a PhD student.